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What’s the difference between legalization and decriminalization?

Lawmakers in New York are constantly changing the state’s legal system, and the people who live in and visit New York often don’t understand what those changes really mean. Sometimes, people make assumptions based on limited information or laws in other states that don’t really apply in New York.

One needs only to look at the changing state attitude toward cannabis to see how confusion about what new policies mean could lead to serious legal risks. New York has certainly changed its approach to cannabis or marijuana in recent years. However, the change may not be as sweeping or proactive as people might assume.

New York’s laws have decriminalized the possession of cannabis in some situations. It has not legalized cannabis for adult recreational use. What is the difference between legalization and decriminalization? 

New York system does not allow for legal use or possession

Legalization is the process of creating a regulatory framework that allows some people to possess, manufacture or use otherwise restricted items. In states that have legalized cannabis, there is typically a regulatory system for producers and retailers alike. The state will also often levy a tax to help fund regulatory agencies and offset social consequences of increased cannabis use after legalization.

Decriminalization simply removes the most significant criminal consequences for possession offenses. New York has decriminalized the possession of up to three ounces by those who are at least 21 years of age. If a police officer catches you with less than three ounces, instead of arresting you, decriminalization means you are only going to receive a ticket.

However, those whose possession doesn’t fall under the decriminalization statute, those who grow cannabis and those who sell it can still face criminal charges under New York law. The state does not have framework that allows for these activities to take place in compliance with the law.

Other important limitations of decriminalization

Decriminalization will not give you the opportunity to buy your cannabis at a retail shop, meaning you will always have the risk of criminal activity occurring during your transaction.

Additionally, you could get arrested in your attempts to purchase or transport cannabis. Finally, although you can legally possess it, if you get caught consuming it in public, there could be consequences as well.

If you find yourself charged with a drug offense in New York despite decriminalization, you may need to defend yourself in court.