Decriminalize vs. Legalize: Marijuana Laws In The US
If you’re wondering what the difference between decriminalization and legalization is, you’re not alone! It’s actually a bit confusing, but we’ve put together a helpful guide for you to refer to. With such a changing landscape throughout the entire cannabis industry, things move quickly! However, this makes it difficult for consumers, or even those merely interested in the industry, to keep up with the constant changes.
So, whether you are a cannabis enthusiast, or simply interested in the difference between the two terms – we have the info for you! You’ll be in the know and able to answer correctly whenever someone asks, “wait, what’s the difference between the two?”
Because there is a difference!
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What Is Decriminalization?
Decriminalization means that the drug is prohibited by law, but if in possession, you will not be prosecuted or criminalized for carrying it – as long as it is under a certain amount. This means that it is not necessarily legal yet, but the law/lawmakers recognize that possessing the drug does not mean it must be criminalized when prosecuted.
For example, non-medical cannabis is legal in 21 states, but only decriminalized in 10 states as of November 2022. This means that in those states where it is decriminalized, those in possession will not be tried as harshly as in other states where it has not been decriminalized.
Why Decriminalize Marijuana Possession?
This is a hotly debated issue because it largely comes down to what each state rules, especially as there is not a federal ruling to refer to. However, researchers have argued that decriminalization is better than total prohibition of marijuana.
Researchers at Rice University’s Baker Institute For Public Policy have mentioned that decriminalization would: (1)
- Reduce arrests and the collateral consequences of a criminal record
- Reduce racial disparities in drug law enforcement
- Allow for more efficient use of taxpayer dollars
What Is Legalization?
Legalization means that the drug is now made legal under federal or state law. You may see this as a cut and dry answer, but it actually depends on the type of legalization. Thanks to the Recovery Research Institute, we have a breakdown of the different forms of legalization (pertaining to marijuana in this case):(2)
- Legalization without commercialization - This means that a drug can be made legal for recreational use, production, distribution, and sale. However, you can’t brand or advertise the product. This is done so that products can be sold but not “pushed” to the public. Alcohol is also treated in a similar manner.
- Legalization with limits on commercialization - This is similar to the above type, only with different restrictions. This means that companies can advertise their products in certain venues or at certain times, but most likely away from the view of children.
- Legalization with full commercialization - This means that there is completely free market commercialization, allowing companies free reign.
Why Legalize Marijuana Possession?
There are a variety of reasons why marijuana should not be legalized, but in this case, the reasons to legalize it are interesting. For example, much of marijuana possession is tied to racial disparity issues within the country. According to statistics, in New York City, 32.3% of possessions resulting in conviction are Black Americans and 30% are Hispanic Americans – compared to only 15.8% of White Americans.(3)
This is also tied to the way that marijuana possession convictions impact a person’s ability to get hired for jobs, get housing, attend school, or even get loans. These two arguments have pushed many states to legalize marijuana possession (21 states as of November 2022) in order to combat restrictive and oppressive laws that largely hinder marginalized groups from succeeding in society.
Differences Between Decriminalization vs. Legalization
Decriminalization means that the drug is still illegal, but you will not be prosecuted as harshly for the possession of it. This is done to reduce the rate of incarcerations and reduce the criminality associated with possession of a drug like marijuana.
On the other end, legalization means that the drug is legal, but could still have stipulations, as seen above. This means that you can legally and recreationally use a drug, like marijuana. However, this should never be done without exercising caution and discussing with a medical professional. Your doctor will be able to tell you how marijuana may impact your body based on your personal medical history and any medical conditions you are dealing with.
The differences between decriminalization and legalization are stark: one is still illegal and the other is legal. It may be easy to mix them up, but it’s important to understand the differences. This will become especially important as the laws most likely will change in years to come.
Pros And Cons Of Legalizing Drugs
While we would love to give you a clear-cut answer on this, there are many factors to consider when it comes to the legalization of drugs! Mainly, the issue of use comes to mind. We’ve broken out a few top pros and cons that are often discussed as with:
- Decreases black market use - The legalization of marijuana in states has had an impact on the number of seizures at the border, decreasing by millions of pounds and the lowest in over a decade.4
- Boosts the economy - By opening up regulated consumer markets, legalizing marijuana could potentially boost the economy due the number of stores, dispensaries, and online offerings.
- Decrease rate of incarcerations - Many marijuana related convictions could be lessened if it was legalized.
- Increases rate of addiction - This is probably the largest drawback that researchers and policymakers have. While marijuana is often associated with the term dependence, there are other issues to consider. Marijuana use can lead to something called Marijuana Use Disorder, which could become an addiction in severe cases.5
- Needs to be better outlined - Currently there is a wide range of opinions about marijuana, which prevents there from being consensus. With this, more research and conversations need to be considered to better understand and inform the public about the drawback and benefits of marijuana use.
Pros And Cons Of Decriminalizing Drugs
Decriminalization has everything to do with the nature of the criminal justice system, and not with the overarching legality of a drug. The drug is still considered illegal in this case. However, a decriminalized drug means that you will incur a fine rather than a criminal penalty, which usually means jail time then. In an effort to retool the criminal justice system, several states have pushed to decriminalize marijuana.
But there are still some common pros and cons to consider such as:
- Decreases rate of incarceration - Something that is constantly discussed in the media and in public policy debates
- Decreases perception of criminality - Policymakers often discuss what constitutes criminal behavior, with many debating whether or not the possession of marijuana should be categorized in the same way as other drugs.
- Decreases black market use - As with Prohibition (alcohol), we saw an uptick in bootlegged alcohol. This applies to drugs as well. Researchers are still determining if it is better for society to change the perception around this type of drug use. It may have an impact on how people source marijuana (hopefully from more reputable sites rather than black market ones).
- Need more proof - While we have statistics on successful implementation and marijuana use in society, there is still much more that needs to be fine tuned. Mainly, how much is considered “legal” and how that differs depending on the individual. Much of this is similar to how alcohol was, and still is, debated. We need to consider the amount that can be consumed safely and the age that is appropriate to possess it.
Legality Of Cannabis In The US
As of November 2022, here are the states where marijuana has been approved for use:
States Where Marijuana Is Decriminalized
This is a list of states with marijuana decriminalization laws. Some also have made marijuana legal, but others have just decriminalized certain marijuana possession offenses.
What’s The Alternative Then?
So, that was probably a lot of information, huh? If you’re still on the fence about marijuana use, especially in relation to your state’s laws, there are still other options to consider. Namely, CBD is a great, and legal, alternative to marijuana use.
At BATCH, we provide top quality, organic hemp products that are paired with functional botanical ingredients to leave you feeling your best. We have everything you need from CBD Oils to CBD Gummies, and even CBD for Pets!
Plus, check out the BATCH Blog to learn more about CBD and the cannabis industry. If you’ve got the questions, we’ve got the answers!
- The case for marijuana decriminalization. Baker Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bakerinstitute.org/research/case-marijuana-decriminalization
- Drug policy in the United States. Recovery Research Institute. (2018, December 3). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://www.recoveryanswers.org/resource/an-introduction-to-drug-policy-positions/
- Brendan Cheney, "For Non-White New Yorkers, Marijuana Arrests More Often Lead to Conviction," politico.com, May 9, 2017
- United States Border Patrol, "Sector Profile - Fiscal Year 2015 (Oct. 1st through Sept. 30th)," cbp.gov
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, April 13). Is marijuana addictive? National Institutes of Health. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive