If the POTUS wanted to do a mass pardon for victims of the drug war; those imprisoned for merely having/using drugs, then what percentage of these people could he free unilaterally? And what percentage would still be imprisoned at the state level and thus out of his reach? And of this latter percentage, what amount would be held in blue/red states?

Lastly, I'm not just talking about Weed. Yes, Weed too, but also Opium, Meth, Cocaine, etc.

  • 1
    @DavidGrinberg Do you have a citation for the claim of no mass pardons?
    – D M
    Sep 12, 2017 at 16:04
  • 2
    @David Grinberg: On the contrary, in 1977 President Carter pardoned all Vietnam-era draft resisters.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 12, 2017 at 17:41
  • @DavidGrinberg A decent share of all state and federal pardons have been mass pardons. For example, there were many mass pardons after the U.S. Civil War.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 12, 2017 at 22:15
  • Not sure what the basis is the the close votes. This is an eminently answerable question, that was indeed answered accurately (in part) and could in principal be answered in full, with an important political dimension.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 12, 2017 at 22:17
  • @DM You're right, I did some more digging and looks like I was wrong. Sep 13, 2017 at 0:03

1 Answer 1


According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

Sixteen percent of state prisoners were serving sentences for drug-related offenses (206,300 prisoners).

Almost 50% (92,000 prisoners) of sentenced federal prisoners on September 30, 2015 (the most recent date for which federal offense data are available) were serving time for drug offenses

Doing the math on that, about 30.8% of drug prisoners are in federal prison.

Someone pointed out that the stats on possession vs all drug offenses may be different. And that turned out to be the case, in a large way.

According to this report, (see page 30) 46,000 of those 206,300 state drug prisoners had drug possession as their most serious charge.

But according to this report, (table on page 2) only 247 federal prisoners had drug possession as their most serious offense in 2012.

Doing the math, only about 0.5% of prisoners convicted of drug possession as their most serious crime were in federal prison as opposed to state prison.

It's worth noting that some people may be in prison for more than one reason, so giving someone a pardon for their drug offenses may or may not result in them actually being released.

  • The states are a lot trickier. I found some statistics for California prisoners in 2010 but that predates some important changes in their laws.
    – D M
    Sep 12, 2017 at 16:42
  • Good stats, but this could hide prisoners who were serving time for selling drugs (the OP mentions "merely having/using") and those who were convicted of other offences at the same time (eg a robber who was also using).
    – James K
    Sep 12, 2017 at 17:00
  • @JamesK You're right about the selling vs using thing; my source doesn't seem to differentiate. In the case of a robber who was using, the more serious crime was the one used for the purposes of those stats. I did note that some people may be in for more than one reason.
    – D M
    Sep 12, 2017 at 17:25
  • 2
    I added stats for drug possession - it really changed things.
    – D M
    Sep 12, 2017 at 17:42
  • Very useful answer.
    – James K
    Sep 12, 2017 at 18:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .