Marijuana legalization has recently become a hot topic in politics. Legalization started in Colorado in 2012 when voters approved a ballot initiative that legalized the recreational use and sale of cannabis. In the eight years following Colorado’s first steps, 14 other U.S. states have followed its lead by legalizing marijuana at the state level. However, despite the ongoing efforts of some politicians to decriminalize the drug on the federal level, marijuana remains illegal federally.
Opponents of marijuana legalization argue the drug poses a public health and safety risk. Advocates push back, saying the drug is less dangerous than alcohol. They also argue a social justice initiative is necessary to retroactively address the disproportionate effect that marijuana laws have had on minority communities. Just as many individuals have different beliefs about marijuana legalization, many states have differing laws.
Legalization By State
Different states have made different strides in legalization, with some including provisions for expungement or vacation of low-level marijuana convictions. Linked below are brief descriptions of the measures that each of the states that have legalized marijuana has taken.
- Washington, D.C.
- New Jersey
- South Dakota
While many states are working toward marijuana legalization, the drug is still classified as a Schedule I drug federally, which means the government believes the drug to have a high potential for abuse and no medical purpose. It is illegal to cultivate, distribute, or possess marijuana under federal law.
Many states have directly conflicted with federal law by legalizing marijuana at the state level. However, the federal government has generally taken a hands-off approach to marijuana cases, with Obama setting the precedent in 2009 that federal prosecutors should consider not prosecuting those who distributed marijuana legally under their state medical marijuana laws.
“Federal law is often slower to change than state law,” said Attorney Allen Yates of Yates & Wheland. “While your state may have less strict laws on marijuana use, people should still understand the legal implications of their actions on all levels.”
What Is Decriminalization?
Decriminalization, as it relates to marijuana, can be defined as the reduction of penalties for marijuana charges, or the reclassification of a criminal offense as a civil offense. Typically, decriminalization of possession means no arrest, prison time, or criminal record for first-time possession of a small amount of the drug for personal use. 26 states have decriminalized low-level marijuana possession offenses, with some reclassifying as a civil offense and some reducing penalties.
Often seen as the middle ground between legalization and strict drug policy, decriminalization does not protect all marijuana use in applicable states. Repeat offenses, sales, distribution, or possession in large quantities can still lead to jail time for offenders in states with decriminalization policies.
What Are The Laws In My State?
Marijuana laws are ever-changing in the U.S., which can make it difficult to keep up with the state of marijuana legality as it applies to you. There are many resources out there that can help you keep track of the marijuana laws in your area.
Navigating marijuana laws can be confusing. If you have been charged with possession or another drug charge, an attorney at Yates & Wheland may be able to help you with your case. Reach out today to speak with a dedicated professional.