Despite being illegal on a federal level, decriminalizing marijuana has been a success story in Colorado and Washington, two states that have become the first to legalize the drug. Unlike legalization, which still remains illegal on the federal level, decriminalization reduces criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession. While an individual still faces the consequences of possessing marijuana, their actions will not lead to a criminal record and no jail time.
Criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana are reduced
In 2016, Rhode Island legalized marijuana for personal use, reducing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under state law, you can now possess up to an ounce of marijuana without being charged with a felony. If you are caught with less than an ounce, you will receive a civil violation, which carries a maximum fine of $150. Possession of one ounce to five kilograms of marijuana will be classified as a felony, and can result in prison sentences ranging from 10 to 50 years. In addition, selling any amount of marijuana is strictly prohibited.
Although marijuana remains illegal under state law, the consequences for small amounts of the drug are less severe than in many other states. For example, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is an infraction, and a fine of up to $2,000 will be assessed. However, possession of more than a pound of marijuana is still classified as a felony and can land you in jail for up to five years and a fine of up to $10,000. This is a good sign for consumers, especially for those who use marijuana for medical purposes.
In addition to reducing the penalties for possession of marijuana, several cities in Louisiana have also reduced their penalties for the drug. In March, Shreveport revised its marijuana law to reduce penalties to as low as $50 or community service. Meanwhile, New Orleans and Baton Rouge have decreased the penalties for small amounts of marijuana to less than $100. This is a welcome change for many citizens and has made marijuana legal in the state.
Colorado and Washington became the first states to decriminalize marijuana
Legalization of recreational marijuana took place in 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington made their voices heard. This defied federal law and set up a showdown with the Obama administration. While Oregon also attempted to decriminalize marijuana, its measure failed. However, because it had less funding, opponents of the Colorado constitutional amendment accepted defeat and conceded victory. Washington’s recreational marijuana law is expected to be finalized by the end of this year.
While legal sales have been limited, the benefits have been significant. A study by the AAA Foundation concluded that the presence of THC in fatal crashes doubled from 2013 to 2014. Another study from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation used roadside data from drivers in three waves before, during, and after legal sales began. The findings from both states are compelling, and support legalization of recreational cannabis in both of these states.
Both Colorado and Washington’s legal marijuana laws came with a catch, though. Both states were divided on the measure and had a hard time determining which would become the final outcome. In Washington, meanwhile, analysts projected that voters would approve the legalization ballot. The Washington initiative proposed a heavy tax on marijuana, making it appealing to budget hawks. It would impose a 25% tax three times, from grower to processor to retailer.
While the legalization of marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, many advocates view it as a social justice initiative. Marijuana laws disproportionately impact minority populations and contribute to mass incarceration. However, states that have legalized marijuana have made efforts to retroactively address the effects of the prohibition, often by allowing low-level marijuana convictions to be expunged.
Legalization is still illegal on a federal level
Despite recent changes in marijuana law, the federal government has maintained that the drug is still a Class I controlled substance. States are free to decriminalize marijuana in their own jurisdictions, but federal laws still trump state laws. This can lead to conflicting rules, which can make life more difficult. Thankfully, several states have legalized marijuana, allowing adults over 21 to possess up to one ounce and grow up to six plants. However, only three plants may mature.
In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act deemed marijuana to be a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use. In 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act delisted certain cannabis products from the Schedule I list, making hemp legal. However, marijuana is still illegal federally, as anything with 0.3% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content remains federally illegal. Even though it is legal in many states, federal enforcement is not likely to come after marijuana growers.
In 2014, Congress passed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to prohibit the Department of Justice from enforcing federal laws against states with medical marijuana laws. This amendment will have to be renewed annually. Regardless of the results of state ballot measures to legalize marijuana, the federal laws remain in place. And despite the fact that legalization is legal on a state level, it remains illegal on a federal level.
The bill was introduced last year as a Republican alternative to the Democratic-led reform proposals. It would legally decriminalize marijuana in the United States under various federal agencies, regulate its commerce, and protect the rights of patients who use the drug, and allow medical marijuana. It would also allow state governments to set their own policies regarding cannabis, including the levy of a 3 percent federal excise tax on sales.
States can reduce penalties by enacting their own laws
State legislators in the U.S. have begun to consider the decriminalization of marijuana. A recent report presented the evidence supporting the case for decriminalization, and the negative effects of prohibition on society. Yet, despite the research, Texas legislators have failed to enact legislation that would reduce penalties and allow medical marijuana. However, the current session is considering bills to reduce marijuana penalties and allow for medical marijuana use.
There are numerous state and local governments considering decriminalization of marijuana. The district of Columbia city council and the Ohio Senate recently announced hearings on decriminalization legislation. The Minnesota legislature passed a decriminalization bill, and the state’s Senate is expected to consider similar legislation in the near future. The decriminalization efforts have also gained momentum in Hawaii, where the state’s Senate president supports eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use.
Federal and state authorities can take various measures to disrupt the implementation of decriminalization policies in the states. For instance, the Department of Justice could revive civil asset forfeiture, a law that allows police departments to seize the property of suspected criminals. It’s possible that this practice will be applied to marijuana use in Washington D.C. and other states. This could lead to a showdown in the future.
Massachusetts is considering legalizing marijuana, with most Bay Staters supporting the initiative. However, it’s important to note that the current situation in New Hampshire still exists despite its legalization. A small amount of marijuana is considered a civil offense and carries a fine of $100 or $200. A more severe offense carries a five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $25,000, and the penalties increase with subsequent offenses.
Social equity programs can help communities of color enter the legal marijuana industry
Some dispensaries in Colorado are opening doors for Black entrepreneurs in the recreational marijuana industry. For instance, Oakland recently gave a $2 million grant to the nonprofit Supernova Women, which is helping women of color break into the marijuana industry. The nonprofit is also pursuing social equity in marijuana legislation. The social equity program in Colorado was created in part to address this issue. Regardless of its shortcomings, this program offers hope for the future.
There are many ways that social equity programs can help communities of color enter the industry. In Virginia, HB 2022 provides financial assistance for new marijuana businesses. It would allocate $22.5 million in low-interest loans and grants to help entrepreneurs buy equipment and renovate spaces to meet licensing requirements. Unlike other industries, a marijuana farm requires a significant upfront investment. However, because marijuana remains illegal on federal level, it is easier to secure a loan for cannabis-related businesses.
The new federal laws require cannabis business owners to meet certain criteria. These guidelines include a minimum number of employees and the percentage of social equity ownership in the business. The federal government must also provide exclusivity to companies with a 51% social equity qualifying ownership or control. A social equity license also guarantees exclusivity for five years. A business that meets these criteria should receive an approval from the Cannabis Control Commission.
The licensing process is a major barrier for marginalized communities to enter the industry. Many of these communities lack access to formal-economy jobs. Detroit was once the auto industry’s headquarters. People had careers, aspirations, and goals. Those who were left behind turned to the illegal marijuana industry to make ends meet. If we don’t address these issues, inequality will remain a powerful weapon.