Rhode Island became the 14th state in the union to decriminalize marijuana to some degree on Monday. In these states — unlike Washington and Colorado, which both legalized the drug by voter referendum — people who use pot can be punished under state law, but only by some means other than prison time. Typically, offenders will receive a violation akin to a traffic ticket.
Even state legalization doesn’t solve the conflict with the federal law that still prohibits any use of the drug under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. However, it does make a dent in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes. And based on the 2012 election, it seems that more states will be pursuing the path of legalizing recreational use of the drug in a manner similar to alcohol.
The lack of a coherent federal policy makes enforcing state laws complex, and it also hinders a national policy to deal with the actual dangers of marijuana use, including dependence.
“There are three million people [nationally] who report that their lives are seriously interfered with by pot smoking and that’s particularly problematic for juveniles,” according to Mark Kleiman, the man who is helping Washington set up its state marijuana legalization regulations. “Six percent of high-school seniors are daily smokers and that can’t be good for their education.”
Studies suggest that decriminalization does not lead to increase in use of marijuana — ideally it would create an opportunity to engage in a more robust conversation about the risks of dependence.
Here are the states where marijuana isn’t necessarily a jail-able crime anymore.
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