Yesterday, Delaware passed legislation to decriminalize marijuana after the state Senate approved a bill that treats simple marijuana possession like a speeding ticket. Governor Jack Markell signed the legislation into law almost immediately after the Senate approved it. The law will go into effect six weeks after being signed by Governor Markell.
The bill was sponsored by Democratic Representative Helene Keeley and it allows Delawareans to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and use the drug privately without facing criminal charges. Criminal penalties for simple possession will be replaced with a $100 civil fine.
Every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the bill
Earlier this month, the Delaware House of Representatives passed the decriminalization measure and it faced significant opposition from police groups and Republicans. No Republican in either the House or the Senate voted in favor of the legislation.
Republican Senator Colin Bonini said, “This is a vote we’re going to really, really regret. Would you want your kid smoking weed? I think the answer is overwhelmingly no.”
Attorney General Matt Denn, Delaware’s top law enforcement official supported the decriminalization measure. Denn said, “I’ve said for some time that we’re generally supportive of possession of small amounts being treated as a civil rather than a criminal offense.”
Governor is committed to reducing the number of people in Criminal Justice system
Kelly Bachman a spokesman for Governor Markell issued the following statement after signing the bill.
“The governor remains committed to reducing the number of people entering the criminal justice system and refocusing resources where they are needed most and House Bill 39 supports these efforts.”
Nineteen other states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2010, African Americans in Delaware were three times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
In Delaware, like in other states, there is evidence that the law is disproportionately enforced along racial lines. Governor Markell noticed this trend and it was a driving force behind the passage of the bill.
The number of states that have legalized some form of marijuana and decriminalized its possession continues to grow at rapid rates this year.
Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, decriminalized marijuana, or both. Also, 4 states have legalized recreational marijuana and 14 states have legalized a limited form of marijuana by allowing patients access to cannabidiol (CBD). It is time for change!