LUBBOCK, Texas — To some, decriminalization and legalization may seem like the same thing. But, Texas Tech Law Professor, Dwight McDonald, said legalization and decriminalization of marijuana are quite different. 

“Decriminalization is [when] you do not take the law off the books; you simply choose not to enforce it. Whereas legalization is you take the law off the books, and you now make that activity which was once illegal. It is now legal,” McDonald said.

Right now, McDonald said possessing two to four ounces of marijuana could land you in jail for a year and cost you up to a $4,000 fine. However, in cities where this amount or less has been decriminalized, that punishment is less. 

“They now make it a fine-only offense where you can pay up to a $500 fine, but there is no threat or no option for you to be incarcerated for it,” McDonald said. 

McDonald explains that some activists fight for decriminalization instead of full-blown legalization due to the number of people needed to convince. 

“In order to legalize possession marijuana, that’s a much heavier lift,” McDonald said. “It’s a heck of a lot easier to convince four or five or six council members than it is to convince 150 to 175 state representatives, and then the other [31] state senators that you would need in order to do that.”

In 2022, voters in other Texas cities with major universities–like Austin, San Marcos and Denton have approved decriminalizing the drug. But, why now?

“Folks are now saying [they’d] rather expend our resources on going after drug dealers, and more serious violent crimes, as opposed to having our police officers arresting people for possession of a personal amount of marijuana,” McDonald said. 

If you’re torn on the issue, McDonald recommended researching those other cities who have voted to decriminalize, and how it’s been going for them.