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Executive Summary

Campaigns to liberalize municipal marijuana possession penalties in states where cannabis remains criminalized have become increasingly popular in recent years.

Since 2012, over 50 localities in a dozen states have enacted municipal laws or resolutions either fully or partially decriminalizing minor cannabis possession offenses. Over 10.5 million Americans reside in these localities.

This total does not take into account citywide ordinances in jurisdictions that later moved to either decriminalize or legalize marijuana statewide.

WHAT IS MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION?

The decriminalization of cannabis, as first recommended by the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse in 1972, is a public policy that calls for replacing criminal sanctions for minor marijuana-related offenses with the imposition of civil fines.

Under full decriminalization, minor offenses are defined by statute as either non-criminal violations or infractions. Violators are not subject to arrest. Instead, they are cited and mandated to pay a small fine. Violators are not subject to a court appearance nor are they saddled with a criminal conviction or record.

Under partial decriminalization policies, minor marijuana offenses may remain classified as misdemeanor offenses. However, violators are issued a summons in lieu of a criminal arrest. Violators may still be required to appear in court and, if found guilty, will likely have to participate in community service or some other diversionary program instead of jail. First-time offenders may or may not receive a criminal record depending on the jurisdiction.

STATEWIDE DECRIMINALIZATION EFFORTS

Beginning with Oregon in 1973, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted versions of marijuana decriminalization. (Eight of these states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Vermont) have since replaced their decriminalization statutes with statewide adult use legalization legislation.)

Today, nine states - Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island - have fully decriminalized activities specific to the private possession of small amounts of cannabis by adults. Four additional states - Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio - have partially decriminalized marijuana possession offenses. In these latter jurisdictions, cannabis remains classified as a misdemeanor under state law, but the offense does not carry the penalty of jail time. In New York, marijuana possession 'in public view' remains punishable as a criminal misdemeanor.

LOCAL DECRIMINALIZATION EFFORTS

Numerous counties and municipalities have moved to decriminalize marijuana offenses locally in jurisdictions where state lawmakers have refused to make any statutory changes in the criminal classification of cannabis.

As public support in favor of marijuana law reform has grown, so too have local efforts by legislators and voters to address the issue at the municipal level.

Since 2012, nearly 60 local jurisdictions in various marijuana prohibition states - including Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas - have enacted regional reforms removing the threat of either arrest and/or jail time for those who violate local cannabis possession laws.

The following report, while not intended to be all inclusive, highlights the growing number of cities and counties in marijuana prohibition that have moved forward with regionalized cannabis liberalization policies - policies which now govern over 10.5 million Americans.

This data is current as of May 2018. Additional updates will be made to this report as needed. Suggested edits to this report may be provided to: norml@norml.org.