Delaware Legislature Votes to Decriminalize Cannabis Possession; Governor Expected to Sign Bill Into Law

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Delaware Legislature Votes to Decriminalize Cannabis Possession; Governor Expected to Sign Bill Into Law

By Robert Capecchi, Marijuana Policy Project

iowabudDOVER — The Delaware Senate approved a bill 12-9 on Thursday that would remove criminal penalties and potential jail time for adult possession of a small amount of marijuana.

The measure, which was approved in the House earlier this month, will now be sent to Gov. Jack Markell (D), who is expected to sign it into law. In a March letter to the editor of The New York Times, Gov. Markell said he is “hopeful that [his] state will decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

HB 39, introduced by Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South) in the House and sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chair Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East) in the Senate, would replace criminal penalties for adult marijuana possession with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. Under current Delaware law, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of a $575 fine and three months in jail.

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“Laws that criminalize people for simple marijuana possession are outdated and counterproductive,” Rep. Keeley said. “Delaware is taking an appropriate step to right size the penalty for small quantity possession.”

“Senate action on this bill is commonsense and will remove the potential implication a criminal record can have for a person seeking employment, housing, and education,” Sen. Henry said. “It is important to more appropriately penalize people in possession of marijuana for personal use.”

More than two-thirds of Delaware voters (68%) support removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession and making it a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time, according to a survey conducted in March 2014 by Public Policy Polling. Only 26% said they were opposed. Full results are available at:

“We applaud the legislature for taking action and adopting this much-needed update to the state’s marijuana possession law,” said Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Marijuana is an objectively less harmful substance than alcohol, and most Americans now agree it should be treated that way. Delaware has taken an important step toward adopting a more sensible marijuana policy.”

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws removing the threat of jail time for simple marijuana possession. The Illinois General Assembly approved a similar measure in May, which is now awaiting action from the governor.

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