Which States Have Decriminalized Marijuana Possession?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Feb. 14 2001 4:05 PM

Which States Have Decriminalized Marijuana Possession?

New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican, has sent to the state legislature a bill that would decriminalize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana. The New York Times reported today that 10 other states have already done that. Which states are they? And what does it mean to "decriminalize possession"?

Advertisement

The states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, and Oregon. These state legislatures (except Alaska's) decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1970s. Oregon was the first, in 1973, following the recommendations of the Nixon administration's National Commission on Marijuana Use (also known as the Shafer Commission). Nebraska was the last, in 1979. Another state, Mississippi, decriminalized marijuana possession in the '70s but later recriminalized it as a misdemeanor offense.

The state of decriminalization in Alaska is unclear. A 1975 state Supreme Court decision decriminalized marijuana possession, but voters approved a state referendum in 1990 that recriminalized all possession. Subsequent court rulings have upheld the 1975 decision, but the state's high court hasn't ruled on the matter, so the law remains ambiguous.

What does it mean to decriminalize possession? Decriminalization treats the possession of small amounts of marijuana (such as 1 ounce) as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense. Offenders are given a citation and fined, and their marijuana is confiscated. Possession of larger amounts is still a criminal offense because it implies an intent to sell. (The laws differ from state to state. Ohio, for example, decriminalizes possession of up to 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces. Click here for a state-by-state guide to marijuana penalties.)

Legalization, as opposed to decriminalization, would create a legal, regulated market for marijuana, presumably with age limits and quality controls similar to those placed on alcohol. Decriminalizing possession is also different from the decriminalization of "medical marijuana," which allows patients to use and sometimes cultivate marijuana for therapeutic purposes, with the permission of a doctor.

Explainer thanks Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Culturebox

The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

A Comically Inane Court Opinion Just Upheld Puerto Rico’s Gay Marriage Ban

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 23 2014 6:07 PM Devil in a Trenchcoat Will the new NBC series bring Constantine into the mainstream, or ruin the character forever?
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM South Florida’s Desperate Secession Movement
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.