The United States has varying stances on the topic of marijuana throughout the country. Much like all politics, cannabis legalization is not a mere black or white issue. Some states are still criminalizing individuals for marijuana possession, while others have already legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana. Many states are still somewhere in the middle. Steps may have been taken to legalize cannabis usage, but it’s a long, complicated process that simply doesn’t happen overnight. The whole process from A to Z can take years. After all, good things take time, right? So what is marijuana “decriminalization,” and how does it differ from full legalization?

On Tuesday, May 4th, 2021, the Louisiana House of Representatives took a pretty important step toward the end goal of marijuana legalization. Louisiana currently has some strict laws prohibiting cannabis, which also include fines and potential jail time if individuals are caught with it. However, Louisiana’s latest legislative session approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession as long as it’s a half-ounce or less. Prior to passing this bill (House Bill 652 authored by state Rep. Cedric B. Glover [D – Shreveport]), individuals caught with marijuana would be criminalized, meaning they would have to pay fines at the very minimum, but also likely face jail time.

What does criminalization (or decriminalization) of marijuana mean exactly? In the state of Louisiana, individuals possessing marijuana prior to House Bill 652 could have been facing criminal charges. If they were caught with half an ounce of marijuana (roughly 14 grams), they would be looking at a $300 fine and/or 15 days in jail on the first offense. Second and third offenses would invoke more serious penalties, such as heftier fines and increased jail time.

House Bill 652 has proposed the decriminalization of marijuana. So where does that leave Louisiana? Decriminalizing marijuana basically means that the possibility of jail time is eliminated, as long as the possessed marijuana is less than a certain amount (half an ounce, in this case). How the marijuana quantity is handled varies by state. For example, in 2019 North Dakota made the maximum penalty for marijuana possession a $1,000 fine for a half-ounce. Instead of getting arrested, the individual in question would be facing a summons instead. While Louisiana and other states have a lot of work ahead of them for marijuana legalization, the vital first step is decriminalizing cannabis.

While Louisiana’s new bill is on the right track toward marijuana legalization, it’s still got a ways to go. Decriminalizing marijuana possession and consumption is simply taking away the option of going to jail. Legalizing marijuana for recreational use (a step ahead of medicinal use) generally means that the state would create a legal, private market for selling marijuana. This allows businesses to grow it and/or sell it for individuals over 21. The marijuana industry would be a part of the state’s economy, bringing in millions of dollars in business revenue.