Decriminalization or decriminalisation is the legislative process which removes prosecutions against an action so that the action remains illegal but has no criminal penalties or at most some civil fine.[1] This reform is sometimes applied retroactively but otherwise comes into force from either the enactment of the law or from a specified date. In some cases regulated permits or fines may still apply (for contrast, see: legalization), and associated aspects of the original criminalized act may remain or become specifically classified as crimes. The term was coined by anthropologist Jennifer James to express sex workers' movements' "goals of removing laws used to target prostitutes", although it is now commonly applied to drug policies.[2] The reverse process is criminalization.

Decriminalization reflects changing social and moral views. A society may come to the view that an act is not harmful, should no longer be criminalised, or is otherwise not a matter to be addressed by the criminal justice system. Examples of subject matter which have been the subject of changing views on criminality over time in various societies and countries include:

In a federal country, acts may be decriminalized by one level of government while still subject to penalties levied by another; for example, possession of a decriminalized drug may still be subject to criminal charges by one level of government, but another may yet impose a monetary fine. This should be contrasted with legalization, which removes all or most legal detriments from a previously illegal act.

Drug-use decriminalization topics

See also


  1. ^ "decriminalization". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2023-08-27.
  2. ^ M. G. Grant, Playing the Whore (Verso/Jacobin, 2014), p. 112
  3. ^ "Forum focuses on polygamy woes". Deseret Morning News. April 25, 2007. Archived from the original on June 2, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-18.