Nineteen states and the federal government have still not decriminalized simple possession of marijuana, and the legacy policies continue to have ramifications for millions of Americans, according to a new report released Tuesday by legalization advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.
Despite cannabis being legal for medical use in the majority of states and legal for adult use in 18 states, there are still multiple jurisdictions where people can face arrest and detention for being caught with even small amounts of cannabis, according to the report, titled "Behind the Times."
"It is absolutely amazing that in 2022 we have a multibillion-dollar industry and an entire ecosystem around it, and at the same time we're still arresting almost 600,000 people a year for simple possession," Toi Hutchinson, president and CEO of the organization, said in a statement.
The Marijuana Policy Project defines a decriminalization law as one that imposes a civil penalty, such as a fine, rather than jail time for simple possession of small amounts of cannabis.
For nearly a decade, federal law enforcers have been barred from bringing cases against patients and suppliers in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, thanks to riders that Congress has added to U.S. Department of Justice appropriations bills. But the report found that federal prohibition can still cause collateral consequences for individuals, hindering employment opportunities, housing, immigration status and the right to bear firearms.
The report draws on data gathered from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, but notes that several agencies do not report their data to the federal agency and that local jurisdictions are likely to undercount the number of people arrested or jailed for cannabis possession.
Even some states with a medical marijuana program have not decriminalized, under the policy group's definition, since a person can be detained and arrested for possessing cannabis without a registered patient card, as in Florida, Oklahoma and Alabama, the report said.
The report's release was timed to coincide with the 50-year anniversary of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse report, also known as the Shafer Commission report, titled "Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding." It was released on this date in 1972 and urged Congress to change the laws so personal use and possession of marijuana would not be a criminal offense.
"Quite simply, we have no idea how many individuals are incarcerated for simple cannabis possession. But even a day or two in jail can cause a person to lose their job and lead to a spiral of life-altering, devastating consequences," the 2022 report said.
The states identified as not having decriminalized simple marijuana possession are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming