Laws can be confusing, especially cannabis laws. With shifting regulations around the US and other countries, you’ll often hear the terms decriminalization or legalization getting thrown around.
However, what’s the difference between the two, and which one is better than the other? Found out all that and more as we explore the difference between cannabis legalization and decriminalization.
The Government Thinks Cannabis Is Still an Illegal Drug
Before we can get into decriminalization vs. legalization, we need to understand cannabis prohibition.
Basically, because of propaganda and misinformation stemming from a long time ago, cannabis is a prohibited drug. In the eyes of the federal government, cannabis is considered a Schedule I drug.
That means that citizens can face fines and prison time for simply having and using cannabis. The penalties are even harsher if someone is caught selling cannabis, no matter how small.
Now you might be thinking—there are many states where that’s not true anymore, nobody gets busted for weed. Depending on where you are, you might be right, and that’s because of decriminalization or legalization.
Let’s keep in mind that cannabis is still an illegal drug, according to the government. However, what if a state or the government of a country wants to relax a drug law?
That’s what decriminalization is—it’s the loosening of criminal penalties for an illegal drug. That means that even though cannabis is an illegal drug, lawmakers can make the laws a little less harsh.
Under decriminalization, law enforcement can turn a blind eye to minor cannabis use and possession. That means that if you get caught with small amounts, you will either receive a small fine or get let off the hook.
However, with decriminalization, it’s still illegal to manufacture and sell cannabis. If you get caught with larger amounts or with the intent to sell, you will likely still face criminal charges.
That’s because decriminalization usually focuses only on small personal use, but anything beyond that is still illegal. That also means that you would still need to rely on the black market to purchase cannabis.
Medical Marijuana Legalization
The next step up from decriminalization is medical marijuana legalization. Under medical marijuana legalization, it’s legal to possess, use, and purchase cannabis from a medical marijuana dispensary.
However, the law doesn’t apply to everyone but to those who qualify for a medical marijuana license. Usually, to get a medical license, you need to have a specific illness or disability.
The requirements vary from state to state, but you can usually obtain one if you have:
- Crohn’s Disease
- Muscle Spasms
- Chronic Pain
That means that if you don’t have a medical cannabis license, you don’t have access to a dispensary and can still face charges for cannabis use and possession.
However, many states that have medical cannabis laws also have decriminalized cannabis.
Still, medical cannabis laws can be very restrictive. In some states, it’s simple for those who need it to obtain it.
Unfortunately, other states require people to jump through hoops to get a medical marijuana certificate. That leaves out a lot of people who could benefit from medical weed from getting it.
Full Cannabis Legalization
Legalizing cannabis is the process of removing all prohibitions against it. That means that all adults would be able to purchase and use cannabis at their own will, just like tobacco and alcohol.
It makes no difference if someone wants to use it to treat their pain or someone who wants to unwind after a long day. The real game-changer about fully legal cannabis is the ability to go to a cannabis dispensary and have a fully-fledged cannabis industry.
That means that anyone above the legal age limit can walk into a dispensary and purchase regulated cannabis products.
If you live in states like California, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, you already enjoy legalized cannabis. Many other states have also legalized cannabis or will soon be voting on the issue.
However, it’s important to know that there are still cannabis laws, even in fully legalized cannabis states. For example, it’s still illegal to possess more than one ounce of cannabis in California, and it would be illegal to sell it.
You also can’t grow more than six cannabis plants at home in California. Cannabis legalization doesn’t mean that you can do anything with cannabis.
What is Regulated Cannabis?
The most interesting part about cannabis legalization is that the states must then regulate cannabis. As we mentioned with decriminalization, people are still buying their weed from the black market.
Even some states with medical cannabis don’t fully regulate the weed that fills their medical dispensaries.
However, with states that pass recreational or fully legal cannabis laws, they do their best to regulate it. That means that states put up guidelines on how weed can be grown and processed.
That’s important because it makes sure that the weed that everyone is consuming is safe. All states with fully legal cannabis make sure that strains are tested and free from pesticides, dangerous bacteria, and toxic metals.
That’s why it’s still illegal for anyone to grow a huge cannabis crop and then sell it. The state steps in and tries to make sure that cannabis is grown and processed to a certain standard.
Despite all that, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems in fully legalized cannabis states. One of the most significant issues is that it’s way too expensive and slow to get a legal cannabis business off the ground.
A Future That’s Decriminalized or Legalized?
With so many states passing cannabis laws, it’s only a matter of time until cannabis is legalized or decriminalized nationwide. That possibility seems even closer now that the democrats are in charge.
On 4/20 this year, the democratic senate majority leader Chuck Schumer stated that he wants to “end the federal prohibition on marijuana in this country” by next year’s 4/20.
Whether we see nationwide decriminalization or legalization is still to be seen. However, with the way public opinion has shifted, it seems that we’ll see full cannabis legalization very soon—or at least we hope so.