ASK KELLEY What's the difference between legalization and decriminalization of marijuana?

Dear Kelley,
I recently heard New Hampshire has decriminalized marijuana. I have also heard people say it is just a matter of time before its legal. I do not understand the difference between decriminalization and legalization. I am also worried, because I have seen reports in the news on states where marijuana is legal and they have had major problems. All I hear on the local news station is “New Hampshire, state of addiction”... If that is the case. why would we add to our problems instead of supporting the solutions? Any clarification you can offer will be very helpful.

Dear Paula,
This is a great question! It can be quite confusing. To be clear, marijuana possession and uses in all forms remains illegal. As of September 2017, New Hampshire law has decriminalized certain amounts of marijuana and some marijuana related products under RSA 318-B:2-C. Under the law a person will still be charged but not arrested and have to pay a fine of $100 for a first offense and $300 for a subsequent offense. Since 2013, New Hampshire law (126-X) has allowed the therapeutic use of cannabis for over 20 medical conditions including cancer, moderate to severe chronic pain, and PTSD. Decriminalization addresses social justice concerns (NewFutures).
I understand your worry with legalization. States that have legalized marijuana have seen increases in homelessness, workforce issues and visits to emergency departments. According to the CDC, research shows that marijuana use can have permanent effects on the developing brain when use begins in adolescence, especially with regular or heavy use. Research also shows that about 1 in 6 teens who repeatedly use marijuana can become addicted, which means that they may make unsuccessful efforts to quit using marijuana or may give up important activities with friends and family in favor of using marijuana. There are many individuals, organizations and coalitions working hard to educate communities, stakeholders and lawmakers on this important public health issue. Legalization is not inevitable. In fact, New Hampshire legislature has consistently voted it down for the past five years (NewFutures).
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