Jurisdictions throughout the world vary widely with regard to what type of marijuana possession charges can be filed against a person. Many countries have legalized the medical use of marijuana or have decriminalized possession of small amounts for personal use. Within countries where any possession is still illegal, the severity of the charge, and, therefore, the severity of the possible penalty, generally depends on the amount of marijuana the person has.
In general, most judicial systems throughout the world categorize these charges as either felony or misdemeanor possession, with felonies being the more serious crimes. In many places, having of a small amount of marijuana is charged as a misdemeanor. Larger amounts that may be intended for sale are charged as a felony.
A number of countries have also decriminalized possession of marijuana in small amounts. The effect of decriminalization generally means that marijuana possession charges, in the criminal sense, will not apply to a person found with a small amount intended for personal use. Uruguay, Switzerland, Israel, and Mexico, for example, have decriminalized this type of possession. In many other countries, while technically illegal, recreational use of marijuana is widely accepted and rarely punished. Costa Rica, Cambodia, and Iran are examples of countries where, although illegal, marijuana is sold and smoked openly without significant risk of prosecution.
Medicinal use of marijuana is also allowed in many countries for people who suffer from a variety of ailments. Within the United States, 15 states allow medicinal use of marijuana as of 2011, and 12 have decriminalized the use of small amounts. If, however, a person is found in possession of larger amounts, or is caught in a state that has not decriminalized possession, then charges may be filed. The distinction between misdemeanor and felony possession will vary by state; however, an amount over 1 ounce (28 grams) is a common standard by which felony charges are measured.
The penalty for being convicted of marijuana possession charges will also vary greatly by jurisdiction. Within the United States, misdemeanor possession generally carries a possible penalty of a year or less in jail, while a felony conviction can lead to a sentence of a year or more in prison. In most countries, the possible penalty for possession of marijuana is less than for possession of other, more serious drugs; however, in some countries, such as Hungary, there is no distinction between possession of marijuana or a more serious controlled substance, such as heroin.