Legalization vs de criminalization?


I see these terms used all the time within politics but I don’t get it. Surely if it’s de criminalized it’s legal?

In: 1

Legalization means it’s legal. No more jail, no more penalties, nothing. It might still be regulated, like alcohol for example.

Decriminalization means it’s still a crime, but the associated penalties are lower, e.g. Instead of jail time, you just pay a fine, instead of a felony it’s just a misdemeanor, etc.

I’ll use the example of drugs. When cannabis is de-criminalized, it typically means that people won’t be arrested for possessing or using it, but since it is still illegal, selling it is illegal and you can be arrested for that. Legalization would be the next step down that road and often comes with setting up legal distribution sites (dispensaries) and taxing the sale of the product.

Decriminalization = it’s still not _legal_, but you won’t get prosecuted, or won’t get prosecuted as severely, for doing the thing.

Legalization = the thing is fully _legal._

This is especially relevant for things like research and business. If a drug is _decriminalized_ but not _legal_, you can’t set up establishments or businesses around the drug — e.g. safe monitored consumption sites. You also are limited in the types of research that can be done on that drug, since it’s still illegal.

Simplified example: maybe a school doesn’t give you detention or another punishment for, say, skipping class. You just get sent back to class when you get caught. That’s decriminalization. But you still aren’t “allowed” to just skip class whenever you want 🙂

It’s the severity. Speeding ticket vs a parking ticket. Speeding would be illegal, you get a ticket, maybe a court case, jail time, stuff on your record, insurance goes up, etc. Lots of consequences.

As opposed to a parking ticket. Ok, you get a ticket or a fine and thats about it. Insurance doesnt go up, you dont go on probation. Just a slap on the wrist, and move it along.

When the federal government finally decriminalizes the ownership, distribution and sale of marijuana then it will be fully legal. Decriminalization means certain local governments (state and county) have chosen not to arrest and prosecute. Because of this distinction, marijuana dispensaries are cash only as using a credit card would leave an electronic trail of purchasing and distribution that is still a felony in the eyes of the US government.