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New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican, has sent to the state
legislature a bill that would decriminalize possession of 1 ounce of
marijuana. The New York Times reported today that 10 other states have
already done that. Which states are they? And what does it mean to
"decriminalize possession"?

The states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Nebraska, New York, North
Carolina, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, and Oregon. These state legislatures
(except Alaska's) decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1970s. Oregon
was the first, in 1973, following the recommendations of the Nixon
administration's National Commission on Marijuana Use (also known as the
Shafer Commission). Nebraska was the last, in 1979. Another state,
Mississippi, decriminalized marijuana possession in the '70s but later
recriminalized it as a misdemeanor offense.

The state of decriminalization in Alaska is unclear. A 1975 state Supreme
Court decision decriminalized marijuana possession, but voters approved a
state referendum in 1990 that recriminalized all possession. Subsequent
court rulings have upheld the 1975 decision, but the state's high court
hasn't ruled on the matter, so the law remains ambiguous.

What does it mean to decriminalize possession? Decriminalization treats the
possession of small amounts of marijuana (such as 1 ounce) as a civil,
rather than a criminal, offense. Offenders are given a citation and fined,
and their marijuana is confiscated. Possession of larger amounts is still a
criminal offense because it implies an intent to sell. (The laws differ
from state to state. Ohio, for example, decriminalizes possession of up to
100 grams, or 3.5 ounces. Click here for a state-by-state guide to
marijuana penalties.) http://www.natlnorml.org/legal/state_laws1.shtml

Legalization, as opposed to decriminalization, would create a legal,
regulated market for marijuana, presumably with age limits and quality
controls similar to those placed on alcohol. Decriminalizing possession is
also different from the decriminalization of "medical marijuana," which
allows patients to use and sometimes cultivate marijuana for therapeutic
purposes, with the permission of a doctor.

Explainer thanks Keith Stroup, executive director of the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Newshawk: Cannabis News - marijuana, hemp, and cannabis news
Pubdate: Thu, 15 Feb 2001
Source: Slate (US Web)
Copyright: 2001 Microsoft Corporation
Website: http://slate.msn.com/
Forum: http://slate.msn.com/code/fray/theFray.asp
Author: Chris Suellentrop
Click here for a state-by-state guide to marijuana penalties.)
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