Decriminalization means that cannabis possession, use, cultivation, sales, and manufacturing still remain illegal, but they no longer have criminal penalties, only civil infractions (such as a parking ticket). Decriminalization results in an unregulated and untaxed cannabis market. With legalization, cannabis-related activities can be regulated and taxed, and people who are following possession and use regulations do not face criminal or civil penalties. 

“Decriminalization is often used by cannabis prohibitionists as a way to stall full cannabis legalization.”

What is cannabis decriminalization?

Decriminalization is seen by many as a potential alternative to full legalization, though without as many protections for individuals or for economic activity. Decriminalization, removing the criminal penalties for certain cannabis-related activities, is the middle ground between prohibition and legalization, and while it is better than prohibition, it cannot lead to a functioning cannabis industry. 

Decriminalization does not create new laws that legalize cannabis activities that were prohibited. Decriminalization tends to focus on personal use and possession, so that individuals can possess and use cannabis without fear of criminal penalties. However, decriminalization does provide a legal way for individuals to buy or grow cannabis. 

In order to have a legal cannabis industry there must be cannabis legalization, which allows for legal, regulated economic activity and taxation.