Legalization v. Decriminalization—Knowing the Difference

I decided to write this blog because I am a barred attorney practicing in the District of Columbia—where marijuana has been legalized—, as well as Maryland—where it has only been decriminalized. This blog will review the distinctions between the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Angel Murphy
May 17, 2018

I decided to write this blog because I am a barred attorney practicing in the District of Columbia—where marijuana has been legalized—, as well as Maryland—where it has only been decriminalized.  Although these terms are often used interchangeably by most people, the terms decriminalization and legalization are different both in their meaning and ramifications. This blog will review the distinctions between the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

 

 

Legalization of Marijuana in the District of Columbia

When a law makes the use and possession of marijuana “legal,” it completely removes the laws that ban the possession and personal use of marijuana so that you cannot be arrested, prosecuted, or face criminal charges for its use and/or possession. The legalization of marijuana also allows the government to regulate and tax its use and distribution just as they would any other legal substance.

Initiative 71 of the District of Columbia marijuana law provides that a person in possession or cultivation of a limited amount of marijuana cannot be held criminally liable. Under D.C. law, a person who is at least 21 years of age can possess up to 2 oz (fifty-six grams) or less of marijuana for personal use and can grow no more than six cannabis plants—with 3 or fewer being mature—in their residence. Initiative 71 also allows adults to sell or use drug paraphernalia related to the use, growth, or processing of marijuana or cannabis.

D.C. Marijuana Possession Limitations

There are limitations with the D.C. law; specifically, the provisions only apply to private property. As such, marijuana may not legally be used on public grounds or federal property. In addition, public consumption of marijuana in the District of Columbia carries a civil penalty of a maximum fine of $100. Possession of over two ounces is classified as a misdemeanor and carries up to six months incarceration and a $1,000.00 fine.

Decriminalization of Marijuana in the State of Maryland

Unlike legalization, decriminalization of marijuana should be thought of as making its personal use and possession still illegal but have more lenient and less restrictive forms of punishment that do not result in jail time or a criminal record. Decriminalization still makes the mass production, transportation, and sale of marijuana illegal. When a person is found in possession of smaller amounts of marijuana that are meant for personal use, law enforcement is instructed to issue a civil fine, at best, instead of filing formal criminal charges against the individual.

Maryland Marijuana Possession Penalties

In the State of Maryland, possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana is decriminalized. If a person is in possession of more than 10 grams but less than 50lb, they may be convicted of a misdemeanor with the likelihood of fines and up to one year in jail. However, a person found to be in personal possession of less than the 10 gram limit will face civil liability akin to a speeding ticket, and will incur a fine of $100. Anything over 50lb opens up to criminal liability of possession with intent to distribute, which is a felony in the State of Maryland.

About The Author
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Angel Murphy is the Founding Partner of The Murphy Law Firm, LLC. As a licensed Maryland attorney and passionate advocate, Angel takes a personal approach to lawyering by devising a creative legal strategy for each client and for each case. Angel enjoys helping her clients face and overcome ...

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