Possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal for adults over age 21 in two states – Colorado and Washington – but a significant number of states offer just a slap on the wrist for small-time pot possession.
Maryland and Washington, D.C., are likely to soon join the list of jurisdictions that have decriminalized minor marijuana possession. The Maryland legislature passed a decriminalization bill Monday and Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., intends to sign it. The D.C. Council passed a decriminalization bill March 4 and Congress has 60 days to review and possibly block it – but there’s no indication that will happen.
American police arrested about 750,000 people for marijuana-related offenses in 2012, according to FBI data. A report from the American Civil Liberties Union found – based on 2010 data – that D.C. had the highest per capita arrest rate with 846 in 100,000 residents arrested.
Decriminalization often means no criminal record and a straightforward fine for people caught with marijuana, although policies vary among the states.
There are active campaigns to legalize marijuana in many states, and Alaska voters will consider legalization Aug. 19. Alaska's marijuana policy has ping-ponged from prohibition to sweeping decriminalization with court rulings, referendums and legislative action during the past four decades.
As the legalization debate rages, here’s a look at where penalties have already been reduced (but where you'll still lose your weed if police find it):
Jurisdictions with pending fine-only decriminalization laws:
|Possession of Up to...||Ages Affected||First Offense||Second Offense||Third Offense|
|Washington, D.C.||1 ounce||18+||$25||$25||$25|
*Court-ordered drug education program possible.
States that have already ditched jail time (at least for first offenses):
|Possession of Up to...
||Ages Affected||First Offense||Second Offense||Third Offense|
|New York||.88 ounce||18+||$100||$200||$250; up to 15 days in jail
|Mississippi||1.05 ounce||18+||$100-250||$250; five-60 days in jail
||$250-500; up to six months in jail
|Rhode Island||1 ounce||18+||$150||$150||$500; up to one year in prison
||$400; five days in jail
||$500; up to seven days in jail
||$2000; up to one year in jail|
*Court-ordered drug education/treatment programs possible.
Notes: In Minnesota, possession in a car is a separate crime. In New York offenses reset after three years, and in Rhode Island offenses reset after 18 months.