Tom Cotton Says Biden's Marijuana Pardon Recipients Pleaded Down From More Serious Charges

In fact, most were caught on federal property with small amounts of pot.


Surprising no one, Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) was not a big fan of President Joe Biden's announcement yesterday that he was pardoning several thousand people convicted of simple possession of marijuana.

"In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders—many of whom pled down from more serious charges," Cotton tweeted. "This is a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership."

You may remember Cotton as the senator who complains that America has an "under-incarceration" problem and who tries to torpedo even the most modest criminal justice reforms. He also eats birthday cake every day.

Setting aside the Chicken Little caterwauling about pardoning pot offenders when crime is rising, Cotton's claim that many of those pardon recipients pleaded down to simple possession from more serious crimes is outlandish.

A 2016 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that most people charged by the feds with simple possession are either caught coming over the U.S.-Mexico border with small amounts, or caught on federal property, such as a military base, national park, or Veterans Affairs facility. They often bumble their way onto a federal prosecutor's caseload, rather than being the target of federal law enforcement. The median sentence for a border offender was six months in prison, while most non-border offenders received probation and a fine.

As law blogger Ken White noted, it's practically unheard of for someone to plead down to simple possession from more serious drug crimes.

The reason is fairly simple: A U.S. Attorney's Office won't waste its time bargaining down just to get a simple possession conviction. Federal prosecutors don't have a problem squeezing guilty pleas out of drug defendants. Only 2 percent of federal criminal defendants went to trial in 2018, for example. It would be like punting for field position on 2nd down.

But Cotton only plays one note, and he doesn't play it particularly well. 

In completely unrelated news, a September poll of prospective Arkansas voters found 58.5 percent were in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, 29 percent were against, and 12.5 percent were undecided.