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Marijuana: Legalization vs. Decriminalization

Just a few short years ago, marijuana was seen as an illegal drug. People who were caught with it were penalized accordingly and would acquire a criminal record as a result of possession and consumption. In recent years, however, many states have taken steps to either legalize or decriminalize marijuana, opening it up for either medical or recreational use for many individuals.

Legalization and Decriminalization: What's the Difference?

Decriminalizing marijuana is simply a repeal of laws that have made it illegal and the penalties thereof. People caught with marijuana in states that have decriminalized it might receive no penalty at all, or they might receive penalties similar to a minor traffic violation. Many advocates of recreational marijuana, however, believe that this is only half the battle. Legalized marijuana is regulated by the government. Consider alcohol: it's a perfectly legal substance, but the government controls where it can be purchased, the age of individuals who are able to use it, and what activities are illegal while under its influence. Not only that, states NY traffic ticket lawyer Zev Goldstein, legalizing marijuana opens the door for legitimate sellers to take over from the black market, providing a legitimate source of marijuana for those who wish to indulge.

Recreational versus Medical Marijuana Legalization

Many people are much more supportive of medical marijuana use than they are of recreational use. Marijuana is known to have positive effects for individuals suffering from nausea, especially following chemotherapy. It can also decrease seizures in epileptic individuals, reduce muscle spasms, and have a positive impact on symptoms of Crohn's disease. When marijuana is legalized for medical use, it's closely regulated, and it's still not available for recreational use or for anyone who doesn't have a prescription.

Legality by US Jurisdiction

The legality of marijuana use depends on the state or territory. In 23 US States and Washington DC, Marijuana is legal in specified amounts. There are still limits on how much can be possessed or transported by each individual, with the amount determined by what is considered to be a personal supply. In Alaska, for example, each individual should have no more than 6 marijuana plants: 3 mature, 3 immature. In New York, the legal possession amount is defined as a "30 day supply." The maximum legal supply is 24 oz, which is permitted in Washington and Oregon.

Marijuana Decriminalization Explained

For many people who choose to use marijuana, the goal is not to legalize marijuana, with all the rules and regulations that will go along with it, but simply to decriminalize it: to make it acceptable for people to possess and use what they like. The decriminalization of non-medical cannabis, however, is only a partial step in the right direction. True legalization doesn't just throw marijuana out on the street and make it usable by everyone. Instead, it offers the types of regulation that can lead to control. When marijuana is merely decriminalized, it continues to come from illicit sources with a strong criminal background. Sixteen states have currently offered decriminalization of marijuana without further legal protections being put in place: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

For better or for worse, marijuana legalization has become a political issue that now has the potential to impact every US citizen. Fully understanding the potential repercussions of changes in the law regarding marijuana is critical to casting an informed vote and developing a personal stance on this radical shift in United States politics. Every responsible citizen needs to understand the difference between decriminalization along with the other potential impacts in order to cast an informed vote.

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