While much attention has been given in recent years to successful statewide efforts legalizing marijuana, far less attention has been paid to the adoption of local marijuana-related policy reforms.
Advocacy for policy changes at the local and municipal levels is necessary in jurisdictions where cannabis is not yet legal, according to NORML. Many of these jurisdictions, such as Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas, have passed ordinances and ballot questions providing for significantly lower marijuana-related penalties than those under state law.
In some instances, local reforms no longer provide for any penalties for possession of small amounts of weed. Other local jurisdictions have enacted reform policies largely ending enforcement of state marijuana possession laws.
“Most Americans Favor Legalizing Cannabis”
“These local policies reflect the reality that most Americans favor legalizing cannabis,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. While state lawmakers aren’t always responsive, local lawmakers are frequent to adopt policies that reflect voters’ wishes. “Specifically they are ending arrests by enacting municipal ordinances decriminalizing or depenalizing cannabis possession.”
As a result, even where marijuana remains illegal under state law, millions of Americans live where local laws depenalize weed.
In Florida, about 4.3 million people reside where possession is treated like a civil violation, not a criminal offense. (Florida state law defines marijuana possession as a crime, punishable by one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.)
In Texas, about 1.4 million people live where local police are discouraged from enforcing low-level marijuana violations. (Texas state law defines marijuana possession as a crime, punishable by 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.)
In Pennsylvania, nearly 20 percent of the state’s population reside in communities that have decriminalized cannabis possession. (Pennsylvania state law defines possession of cannabis as a crime, punishable by 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.)
In Kentucky, nearly one-third of the population live in counties that have largely ceased prosecuting minor marijuana offenses. And in Ohio, over two dozen towns have eliminated all criminal and civil penalties for low-level Cannabis possession offenses.
These policies are not only consistent with voters’ sentiments, according to NORML. They also free up local law enforcement and prosecutors to focus on other, more serious criminal activities.
This updated report, while not intended to be all-inclusive, highlights the growing number of communities with localized marijuana liberalization policies.