Even though recreational marijuana remains criminalized in a majority of US states, more and more municipalities are moving ahead with local laws decriminalizing the possession of cannabis within city limits. For the first time, NORML has released a comprehensive breakdown of these citywide and countywide decriminalization policies.
Efforts to liberalize municipal marijuana possession penalties in states where cannabis remains criminalized have become increasingly popular in recent years. Since 2012, over 50 localities, such as Albuquerque, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis in a dozen states — including Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas — have enacted municipal laws or resolutions either fully or partially decriminalizing minor cannabis possession offenses. Today, over 10.5 million Americans reside in these localities. (Please note: This total does not include cities or counties in states that have either legalized or decriminalized marijuana statewide).
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri: “Local politicians see firsthand the punitive and disproportionately adverse effects that statewide marijuana criminalization has on their communities and upon their constituents. That is why they are exercising their local legislative powers to protect citizens in their community when state politicians are either unwilling or lack the political courage to do so.”
Under full decriminalization, minor offenses are defined by statute as either non-criminal violations or infractions. Violators are not subject to arrest. Instead, they are cited and mandated to pay a small fine. Violators are not subject to a court appearance nor are they saddled with a criminal conviction or record. Under partial decriminalization policies, minor marijuana offenses may remain classified as misdemeanor offenses. However, violators are issued a summons in lieu of a criminal arrest.
Beginning with Oregon in 1973, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted versions of marijuana decriminalization. (Eight of these states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Vermont — have since replaced their decriminalization statutes with statewide adult use legalization legislation.)
Today, nine states — Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island — have fully decriminalized activities specific to the private possession of small amounts of cannabis by adults. Four additional states — Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio — have partially decriminalized marijuana possession offenses. In these latter jurisdictions, cannabis remains classified as a misdemeanor under state law, but the offense does not carry the penalty of jail time. In New York, marijuana possession ‘in public view’ remains punishable as a criminal misdemeanor.
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal: “As public support in favor of marijuana law reform has grown, so too have local efforts by legislators and voters to address the issue at the municipal level. In many regions of the country, local lawmakers are moving to shield their local citizens from state prohibitions — one city at a time.”
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