WHAT IS THE CONTEXT OF THE
One reason the debate gets so furious is that people sometimes use the same words to refer to different things. “Legalization,” as we use it here, means allowing marijuana to be produced as well as possessed by anyone (within age restrictions) who follows relevant rules and regulations. “Decriminalization” maintains the prohibition against production and sale but not on use or possession of small quantities. Most jurisdictions that decriminalize retain civil or administrative sanctions for possession, perhaps in deference to international treaties. As a result there is no agreed-on term for fully legalizing possession while still prohibiting production and distribution. The term “depenalization” encompasses both decriminalization and the lesser step of reducing but not eliminating criminal penalties. By this definition, many of the U.S. states which are usually referred to as having “decriminalized” marijuana have only depenalized it. Unfortunately, outside the scholarly literature, this distinction is rarely made, and the term decriminalization is used to describe any situation that leaves first-time offenders facing minimal sanction risk for possession of amounts suitable only for personal consumption.