FAQ: What is decriminalization?

What is “decriminalization”? 

  • Decriminalization would remove criminal penalties for adult possession of marijuana. Instead it would be a civil violation with a fine, like a parking ticket, rather than a criminal offense with a possible jail time. Trafficking, selling, as well as distributing to minors would continue to be criminal offenses

What does decriminalization NOT do?

  • It does not legalize marijuana. It does not permit anyone to sell marijuana to minors, allow minors to purchase or possess marijuana, nor allow anyone to drive under the influence.

What is the current penalty for possession? 

  • In Hawai‘i, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a petty misdemeanor, which can mean up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Has marijuana been decriminalized in other states? 

  • Yes. In 14 states: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, plus in cities and counties in nine other states.  Cultivation and distribution remain criminal offenses. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington went a step further and passed voter initiatives to tax and regulate marijuana for recreational use.

Is marijuana a “gateway” drug? 

  • No. Studies have consistently debunked this theory.  The National Academy of Sciences found, “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” (Source: National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine.  “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base”.  National Academy Press: Washington, DC, 5, 6. 1999.)


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