What Does It Mean to Decriminalize Marijuana?

A Cross-National Empirical Examination
Pacula et.al.
Center for the Study of Law and Society Faculty Working Papers
Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, UC Berkeley
September 2004

publicationThis paper provides a framework for understanding what decriminalization means within the broader context of depenalization. To illustrate these concepts, it provides a detailed discussion of a range of depenalization policies observed in developed countries, highlighting for each country a distinct issue that influences how the policy is implemented and its potential impact.

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Those interested in analyzing or evaluating the impact of these policies can then use this information to better frame analyses so that policies can be evaluated and compared in a more meaningful way. The paper then demonstrates the problem of using a simple dichotomous indicator, such as “decriminalization”, to differentiate policies within a single country using the United States as the example. It shows that presumed differences in knowledge and enforcement of these laws, factors that should be related to a policy of decriminalization, are not consistent with the current labels that have been given to specific states.