Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C. have enacted laws to stop jailing their residents for possession of modest amounts of marijuana. In eight of those states, marijuana is legal for adults 21 and older, while 13 have “decriminalized” simple possession of marijuana. Many 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: We are in the process of updating the below documents to include the new laws legalizing and regulating marijuana in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Some of the below documents have not yet been updated to reflect those new laws.


1. The Case for Decriminalization

2. Overviews of Bills and Laws