Marijuana is prohibited by federal law, but some states have now allowed its possession and use. In fact, it was in 2012 that Colorado and Washington’s voted for marijuana legalization for recreational purposes. This move was followed suit by Washington, D.C. and eight more states. In addition to the states approving the legalized use of weed, there are also 13 states that opted for the decriminalization of weed. So how is decriminalization different from the legalization of weed?
What is marijuana decriminalization?
With the decriminalization of weed, marijuana is still prohibited but those who get caught possessing a small amount of weed for personal consumption will not receive criminal penalties like a jail sentence. However, the production, transportation, and dealings involving cannabis in large amounts by marijuana traffickers and dealers are still considered unlawful.
Decriminalization is different from legalization in that the use and sale of weed is not considered unlawful. This means that you cannot be arrested, prosecuted or given criminal penalties for activities involving weed.
It should be clarified though that the legalized use of marijuana allows you to do anything you like. With legalization, the government is involved in terms of monitoring and regulating the production and sale of weed. It is up to the government to control who will grow and distribute marijuana to whom, for certain purposes, under certain conditions, and in specified amounts. The operation of a business involving marijuana can also be taxed, just like the sale of cigarettes and alcohol.
States that decriminalized marijuana
So far, 13 states in the US have voted only for the decriminalization of weed. These include Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.
The states that have decriminalized small amounts of weed but now have legal provisions include Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Decriminalization laws differ from one state to the next. Some states rule for fines to be imposed on those busted with possession of weed, while others still include brief prison time. These states also determine just how small a small amount of pot is for their decriminalization policy.
Among the states that decriminalized weed, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, North Carolina, and Nevada considered marijuana use as a low-level misdemeanor without jail time. The other states with the same policy considered the possession of small amounts of weed as a civil infraction.
Here is a quick peek into the marijuana laws in the states with a marijuana decriminalization policy:
- Those caught with less than 0.5 ounce of weed for the first and second time will get a civil penalty of $150 and $500, respectively. People with conditions from cancer to PTSD can use legal medical marijuana bought from the state’s nine dispensaries and four producers. But those caught with more than 0.5 ounce will be charged with misdemeanor with a fine of at most $2,000 and up to one year in jail.
- People busted with up to one ounce of weed will have to pay $100 in fine, but minors caught smoking marijuana in a moving vehicle or in public will have to face criminal charges. Patients suffering from PTSD, cancer, and autism are allowed access to legal medical marijuana.
- Those caught with 10 grams or less of weed have to pay $200 in fine with no jail time. People registered with the state’s medical weed program and have conditions from traumatic brain injury to Tourette’s syndrome and fibromyalgia can legally use weed. Cultivation is allowed, provided proper training is administered to the weed growers, particularly in the safe use of pesticides, water flow is set up, and waste materials are properly disposed of.
- Decriminalization applies to possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.
- Carrying 4.5 grams or less of weed is considered a misdemeanor, but comes with no jail sentence. It has dispensaries catering to the enrollees of the state’s medical marijuana program.
- Possession of weed that amounts to 30 grams or less is decriminalized. Its medical marijuana program only covers CBD oil to treat patients with intractable epilepsy.
- Carrying 10 grams or less of weed for a first offense falls under misdemeanor with no jail time. Just like with Mississippi, only CBD oil for intractable epilepsy is considered under its medical marijuana program.
- First offenders caught with one ounce or less of weed are considered to have committed an infraction that does not warrant a jail sentence.
- New Hampshire. Carrying 0.75 ounce is considered a civil violation without any need for criminal charges to be imposed. The state legally allows patients with cancer, AIDS, and PTSD access to two ounces of marijuana for medical use. Home cultivation, though, is illegal.
- New York. First time offenders busted carrying 25 grams or less of weed have to pay $100 find, while second time offenders will be required to pay $200 in penalty. It allows non-smokable weed to be consumed by patients suffering from cancer, ALS, PTSD, and chronic pain.
- North Carolina. Offenders caught with 0.5 ounce of weed will have to pay up to $200 in fines. It also legally allows the use of CBD oil for people with intractable epilepsy.
- Possession of less than 100 grams of weed is misdemeanor that carries a $150 fine with no criminal penalty. It also allows patients suffering from various conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, AIDS and traumatic brain injury, to use weed medicinally.
- Rhode Island. Weed possession among adults 18 years or older is decriminalized if it is less than one ounce and comes with a $150 fine, no criminal record, and no jail time. It allows up to 2.5 ounces of weed to be used for those who registered in the state’s medical marijuana program. Home cultivation indoors is allowed for 12 plants only.
Pros and cons of marijuana decriminalization
Supporters of the decriminalization of weed have often cited Portugal as a good case study that showcases the success of this policy when it comes to monitoring marijuana use. A 2009 Cato Institute study said that more drug users started getting treatment services after Portugal decriminalized drugs, making them feel less apprehensive about getting arrested after admitting to drug use. This is definitely a major upside to the decriminalization policy of marijuana use.
Marijuana decriminalization is also favored by those who opposed legalization and those who wanted the policy to remove America’s tough drug policies that they considered to be too expensive and punitive. They are against weed legalization for fear that marijuana might become too easily accessible in the country and encourage big corporations to start irresponsibly selling drugs, worsening the problem.
Another upside in the decriminalization of weed is reducing the number of people sent to prison for violating drug laws. It effectively reduces the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders and decreases prison population. Every arrest for marijuana possession costs law enforcers’ time and resources. In 2014, the Drug Policy Alliance found that an arrest in New York cost the government around $1,500. In 2016, incarcerating drug offenders was estimated to have cost the government $7.5 million and $9 million
Police resources can also be directed to other areas of enforcement. By decriminalizing weed, it saves the police officers from having to fill out five to seven pieces of paper for their summary citation issued to every drug offender. To file misdemeanor charges, cops must finish several pages of criminal complaint along with an affidavit with a judge’s signature, bring the offenders to the court for an arraignment, and have them finger printed and photographed.
Decriminalization also benefits people who rely on marijuana as part of their medical treatment. A University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research study found that weed can help reduce the nerve pain among those who suffer from cancer, AIDS, and diabetes.
Those who support the policy to decriminalize marijuana also keeps pushing for its implementation for the sake of public safety and health. To evade the law, people tend to conceal the fact that they use drugs instead of seeking medical assistance or drug treatment. Without anything stopping them in their downward spiral, they increase their risks of overdosing. But even with the arrest of a million drug users every year in America, it did not have any effect on the availability of drugs. With decriminalization, drug users get the encouragement they need to ask for help and law enforcers can focus on more serious public safety problems.
One downside to the decriminalization of weed, though, according to legalization advocates, is that users still have no access to a legal source of weed because of the ban on marijuana sale. This gives criminal organizations the continued opportunity to sell weed, the revenue of which may be used to finance their other criminal and violent activities.
In 2017, the World Health Organization and the United Nations released a joint statement calling for countries to advocate for the decriminalization of the possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use. They are only two of the more recent voices of support for drug decriminalization in the world. Some of the organizations and groups that endorsed this drug policy are the American Public Health Association, International Red Cross, NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union, and Latino Justice.
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