Criminal Mischief

The Difference Between Legalized and Decriminalized Marijuana

While many people may use the terms legalized and decriminalized marijuana interchangeably, these two terms do not mean the same thing. Before we get into the differences between the terms, let’s explore a little bit about marijuana. Prior to the 1930’s, marijuana was not illegal in the United States. At that point, marijuana began to take on its taboo status. This status later increased, when marijuana became a Schedule I drug by the Controlled Substances Act in the year 1970.


Long before marijuana got such a bad rap, many people used it for various reasons. Because it is a naturally growing plant, it had uses in medicine, spiritual aids, and leisure activities. For thousands of years, people used the plant in a variety of ways. To use the plant, people use the dried flowers of the plant to smoke, eat, or drink. While the use of marijuana has a hallucinogenic effect, it also has many medicinal benefits including pain relief, nausea relief for chemotherapy patients, and vascular health to name a few.

Legalized Marijuana

For most, the topic of legalization is more complicated to explain in simple terms. Basically, legalization means that the act in question is not deemed illegal. Therefore, if the use of marijuana is legal, then you can’t be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for its use. However, this does not mean that everything surrounding marijuana is legal. By making an act legal, the government can regulate the use, production, and distribution of the substance.

The same is true of alcohol and cigarettes. There are limitations on ages of alcohol and cigarette purchase and use, as well as restrictions on driving under the influence of alcohol. When a government makes marijuana legal, then the government can implement regulations on the substance and further make money off taxation.

Decriminalized Marijuana

Alternatively, the decriminalization of marijuana looks slightly different. With decriminalization, the use of marijuana is still illegal. However, it reduces the consequences from previous sanctions of use or possession of the drug. Additionally, many police departments may ignore minor infractions of the law such as possession of small amounts of marijuana. In many instances, people found in violation of these infractions face fines and civil charges rather than criminal charges or jail time.

If a government has decriminalized marijuana, then it is likely okay for an individual to have small amounts of the substance for their personal use. However, there will be sanctions imposed for possession of large quantities. Most officers see this the latter as an intent to sell or distribute marijuana. Another negative with decriminalized marijuana is that the government cannot sanction, monitor, or tax the production, sale, or distribution of the substances. As a result, drug cartels will take over the production and distribution of marijuana.

Marijuana Laws in New Jersey

As of February 2021, regulated cannabis for adults over the age of 21 become legal in the state of New Jersey. In addition, marijuana and hashish was decriminalized. If you are over the age of 21, you can now legally possess up to six ounces of marijuana or 17 grams of hashish. It is also now legal to be under the influence of marijuana (unless you are driving) and possess marijuana related paraphernalia. If you posses more than the legal limit of marijuana you will potentially be charged with a fourth-degree crime. Penalties for possessing marijuana while underage are decriminalized. A first offense leads to a written warning. A second offense comes with another written warning and information about community support services. If you are under 18 and get a second offense, your parents will be notified. If you get a third offense, you will be referred to a community support program.

The legalization and decriminalization of marijuana differs depending on which state you are in. Whether your local or state government decriminalizes marijuana or legalizes marijuana, there are crucial facts to keep in mind. You still want to protect yourself from legal ramifications. If you need assistance or further information regarding marijuana laws in your area, contact me at (833) 732-7320, or email me at

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