Marijuana decriminalization is not the same as legalization. Though the growing liberal attitude about marijuana may one day lead to legalization nationwide, it has not occurred yet. Five states plus DC do have legal cannabis, and in 3 of those you can legally purchase it in stores.
But many states have moved to lessen the penalties for marijuana possession, making the offense a civil infraction rather than a criminal charge. Knowing which states have decriminalized pot is important in understanding the risks you take when you have it in your possession. Marijuana possession laws vary widely from state to state.
This is precisely the reason for this website—to provide a resource for people charged with marijuana possession and those curious about the laws in their own state. These laws are always changing, so it’s important if you are facing charges that you talk to an attorney about your case. We can put you in contact with one in your area.
Currently, there are quite a few states that have decriminalized marijuana over the past several years. Though this is subject to change, those states are:
- Alaska (now fully legal)
- Colorado (fully legal, retail sales)
- DC (District of Columbia) – now fully legal.
- Delaware (law in effect as of 12/18/15. $100 civil fine for up to 1 oz)
- New York
- North Carolina
- Oregon (full legalization with retail stores)
- Rhode Island
- Washington (fully legal, retail sales)
Decriminalization means different things in different places. Many allow up to 1oz of marijuana without charging you with a crime, but some allow for less, such as the new law in Maryland which only decriminalizes 10 grams or less.
Some states like New York have technically decriminalized, yet still arrest many people for marijuana possession, since it is only decriminalized if not in public view or “plain sight”.
And just because it is decriminalized, doesn’t mean they can’t charge you with selling it. Even if you have an amount that is otherwise not a crime, if it is in several bags, they can still accuse you of having it packaged for sale, and therefore intent to sell.
Penalties for Marijuana Possession in Decriminalized States
In most states that have decriminalized pot possession, you will only be fined if you are found in possession. A civil citation is much the same as a traffic ticket, with most states charging about $100 for a first time fine. Some states have a limit on the amount that is considered an infraction. In California, for instance, that amount is 25 grams. If you are found in possession of more than 28.5 grams, you will face misdemeanor charges.
Other states also increase the penalty if you’ve faced such an infraction before. New York delivers a $100 fine for the first offense and a $200 fine for the second. If you are found in violation a third time, you will face a misdemeanor charge.
Despite the fact that marijuana possession is still considered a crime in most states, possession of a very small amount can sometimes be handled without any jail time being served. Even in states where possession is considered a criminal offense, there are options. Several states give first-time offenders a second chance in deferred prosecution programs or other similar alternatives. A local defense lawyer can help you better understand the options in your area.
If you’ve been charged with marijuana possession and are concerned about what this might mean for your future, contact us today to be put in touch with a local defense attorney who can help.