What Does the “Decriminalization” of Marijuana Mean?

December 4, 2011


There has been a lot of talk in the media lately about decriminalizing marijuana, but many people are still unsure what decriminalization really means. Far from making marijuana a legal recreational drug, decriminalization simply treats possession of small amounts (e.g., one ounce or less) of the drug as a civil offense rather than a criminal offense. People found to be in possession of marijuana are given a citation and fined, and the drugs are confiscated, but the accused do not face the threat of jail time.

Though the idea has recently entered the public consciousness, the initiative to decriminalize marijuana is actually decades old. Since 1973, 13 states legislatures – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon – have passed marijuana decriminalization laws.

The marijuana decriminalization movement has roots in research that has shown that removing the prohibition against possession has not been shown to lead to increases in marijuana use. In 2001, the British Journal of Psychiatry noted that “This prohibition inflicts harms directly and is costly. Unless it can be shown that the removal of criminal penalties will increase use of other harmful drugs, … it is difficult to see what society gains.” Additionally, it has not been shown that decriminalization has had any effect on adolescent attitudes toward drug use.

Proponents of the decriminalization of marijuana support a variety of initiatives, from reduced penalties for marijuana offenses to completely eliminating all of the penalties related to marijuana possession, sale, cultivation, and usage.

The Massachusetts and New Hampshire each voted on marijuana decriminalization bills in 2008. The New Hampshire Senate voted down a bill that would have reduced penalties for possession of amounts less than one quarter ounce even though the bill had passed in the House of Representatives and had a large body of support among voters. Whereas in Massachusetts, 65% of voters voted ‘yes’ on ballot question 2 known as the Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, which ultimately reduced the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a $100 fine.

DUI attorney Michael Bowser has years of experience successfully defending those accused of drug possession in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. If you have been charged with drug possession in Massachusetts or New Hampshire or have questions about marijuana possession penalties in either state, it is vital that you talk to representation who understands the law. Call Attorney Michael Bowser today at 1-888-5BOWSER to discuss your individual circumstances.

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