As public opinion of cannabis has turned over time, there is a lot of discussions about marijuana legalization and decriminalization. However, there are essential distinctions that exist between legalization and decriminalization. In 2014, the state of Colorado permitted companies to open retail weed stores and it created a heated discussion across the United States about whether recreational or medical cannabis use should be either legalized or decriminalized. There are some states that have legalized weed and others that have decriminalized weed. Let’s explore.
The Decriminalization Process
What is decriminalization? This is when criminal penalties for personal possession or use of marijuana are loosened; although sale and manufacturing of the substance is still illegal. Under this process, law enforcement isn't focused on marijuana possession or use as long as individuals are following the regulation and laws that govern the industry and the states where they live. The sale and production of weed continues to be unregulated under decriminalization. If you are caught using or consuming weed, you may face fines rather than criminal charges.
The Legalization Process
On the other hand, cannabis legalization is about abolishing or lifting the laws that ban the personal use and possession of the substance. More importantly, cannabis legalization permits government to tax the sale and use of marijuana and to regulate it. Proponents of decriminalization and legalization make the case the taxpayers would save millions of dollars. This savings is largely due to the removal of low possession offenders from the judicial system.
There are a lot of arguments from people who favor decriminalization. Some people might argue that it does not make sense to hand over authority to the feds so they can consider cannabis legalization while still trying to regulate the substance on the other hand. They say that it sends a message of confliction when it comes to the use of tobacco and alcohol. Other opponents think that decriminalization sends the wrong message to kids who have seen and been cajoled to take notice of the War on Drugs and while school policies tell kids about “Zero Tolerance” on drugs. In the case of cannabis legalization, the argument by opponents is that weed is a gateway drug; leading users to become addictive, but there is no proof that this is the case. In fact, it is the exact opposite.
Some states have decriminalized weed already, and individuals can consume marijuana for personal use. Those states include Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii as of January 2020, Maryland, Nebraska, Mississippi, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Mexico. The states that have partial decriminalization for specific offenses related to weed are Missouri, North Dakota, New York, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Ohio.
Advocates that want to see full cannabis legalization argue that if sale and manufacture of cannabis gets out of the hands of those in the black market, it would make our lives much better. Crime would be reduced. These same people also say that regulated sale of weed makes it much safer for the consumer and it would provide the states with a steady stream of additional revenue, especially those states strapped for cash. Some say that decriminalization is a sensible choice because it allows the government to be one step closer to full cannabis legalization since right now; only criminals would be able to profit from an outlawed product. But decriminalization is only part of the answer. While marijuana supply remains illegal in most states, it will continue to be a criminal monopoly.