Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. have enacted laws to stop jailing their residents for possession of modest amounts of marijuana. In 10 of those states, marijuana is legal for adults 21 and older, while 13 have “decriminalized” simple possession of marijuana. Most of the decriminalization states impose a civil fine, which avoids the life-altering collateral consequences a criminal record carries. Decriminalization laws avoid imposing harsh punishments for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol, while freeing up law enforcement to focus on serious crimes. Many of these laws were first enacted in the 1970s, and they have proven so non-controversial that several have been expanded.
MPP defines a state as having a “decriminalization” law if the state has enacted a law that imposes penalties other than jail time for possession of marijuana, at a minimum, for a first offense. Some of the states MPP considers “decriminalization” states continue to classify marijuana possession as a crime, but they punish possession with penalties other than jail. In addition, a state may impose jail for subsequent offenses and still be counted as a “decriminalization” state by MPP. MPP’s model civil fine bill imposes a civil fine for possession, with drug education and community service for minors.
Note: Some of the materials on this page have not been updated yet to reflect the newest legalization and regulation law, Michigan’s, which voters enacted on November 6, 2018.
1. The Case for Decriminalization
- Dollars and Common Sense: Summary and Arguments for MPP's Civil Fine Bill
- Support for Marijuana Policy Reform: A Summary of State and National Polling
- Decriminalization Teen Use Analysis
- American Academy of Pediatrics’ Decriminalization Report
- Marijuana Prohibition Facts
- Decriminalization Brochure
- Marijuana Prohibition and Racial Justice (brochure)