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How many people are in prison on marijuana charges?

“You have 2.3 million of our fellow Americans behind bars — it’s the largest prison population on the face of the planet. Many are there for nonviolent drug crimes including possession of marijuana at a time that more than half the states have legalized or decriminalized it.”

— Beto O’Rourke 

O’Rourke misses some context on people incarcerated for marijuana possession.

The U.S. does have the largest prison population on the planet. The most recent edition of the World Prison Population List, published by the U.K.-based International Centre for Prison Studies, showed 2.1 million Americans were incarnated, as of November 2018.

How many people are incarcerated for “nonviolent crimes including possession of marijuana”? Not as many. At the federal level, 47.5 percent of prisoners (81,900) were serving a sentence of any length at the end of September 2016 after being convicted of a drug offense as their most serious crime. But doesn’t just include drug possession, it includes all kinds of drug offenses. “More than 99% of federal drug offenders are sentenced for trafficking,” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Moreover, separate data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission show that only 92 people were sentenced for marijuana possession in the federal system in 2017, out of a total of nearly 20,000 drug convictions.

Fact-checking the first Democratic debate

Twenty candidates are taking the stage Wednesday and Thursday night, with 10 candidates each night. The Fact Checker will be watching and vetting the statements candidates make.

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