Executive Summary

Municipal efforts to either reduce or eliminate local penalties for marijuana-related violations (or to deprioritize the enforcement of existing marijuana laws) have become increasingly popular over the past several years.

Since 2012, NORML has identified over 120 cities or counties that have passed ordinances providing for significantly lower cannabis-related penalties than those provided under state laws. (This total does not take in account local ordinances enacted in states that have since moved to legalize cannabis, thus making the local laws no longer relevant.) As a result, even in jurisdictions where cannabis remains criminalized statewide, much of the public now resides in communities where cannabis criminalization is no longer strictly enforced as a matter of local policy.

In this updated report, NORML highlights local penalty-reduction laws in several states. In most cases, the cities and counties highlighted are in jurisdictions where state law still defines marijuana possession as a criminal offense. In others (such as Louisiana and Ohio), cities are included because they provide for lower civil fines and penalties than those provided by state law.

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

Depenalization: This term refers to local ordinances that eliminate all criminal and civil penalties for marijuana-related violations.

Decriminalization/Civil Fines: This policy eliminates criminal penalties for marijuana-related violations. Violators no longer face arrest or any criminal charges, but they are required to pay civil fines.

LLEP (lowest law enforcement priority): In these jurisdictions, local law enforcement officials are instructed to deprioritize the enforcement of marijuana-related laws.

Summons/Cite and Release: This policy does not amend the criminal status of cannabis. Rather, it amends how local police address marijuana-related violations. Under this policy, police have the option to issue a summons to violators, rather than make an arrest. Violators still faces potential fines, court dates, and a criminal record.

HOW MANY AMERICANS LIVE UNDER LOCAL PENALTY-REDUCTION ORDINANCES?

Today, even in jurisdictions where cannabis remains criminalized under state law, millions of Americans reside in cities and counties where local laws either depenalizing or decriminalizing cannabis are in effect. For example, in Florida, an estimated 4.3 million people reside in localities where marijuana possession is treated like a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. (Florida state law defines marijuana possession as a crime, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.) In Texas, an estimated 1.4 million people reside in cities and counties where local police are largely forbidden from enforcing low-level marijuana violations. (Texas state law defines marijuana possession as a crime, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.) In Pennsylvania, nearly 20 percent of the state’s population reside in communities that have decriminalized cannabis possession. (Pennsylvania state law defines the possession of 30 grams or less of cannabis as a crime, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.) In Kentucky, nearly one-third of the population live in counties that have largely ceased prosecuting minor marijuana offenses. In Ohio, over two dozen towns have eliminated all criminal and civil penalties for low-level marijuana possession offenses.

IN CONCLUSION

The following report, while not intended to be all-inclusive, highlights the growing number of communities that have advanced localized cannabis liberalization policies. These local policies reflect the reality that most Americans favor legalizing cannabis. While state lawmakers are not always responsive to this sentiment, local lawmakers are frequently moving forward to adopt policies that reflect voters’ wishes – such as the enactment of municipal ordinances decriminalizing or depenalizing cannabis possession.

NORML works to keep this data current. Additional updates will be made to the report as needed. Suggested edits to this report may be provided to: norml@norml.org.