The Delaware House of Representatives approved a bill 24-14 on Tuesday that would remove criminal penalties and potential jail time for possession of a small amount of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. The bill, which was amended on the floor to apply only to adults, will now be sent to the Senate.
HB 39, introduced by Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South), would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an adult a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine with no possibility of jail. Under current Delaware law, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $575 fine and up to three months in jail.
"Laws that criminalize people for simple marijuana possession are outdated and counterproductive," said Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.. "We're grateful the Delaware House agrees and hopeful that the Senate will join them in supporting this commonsense legislation. Delaware cannot afford to continue arresting people, jailing them, and giving them criminal records just for possessing a small amount of marijuana."
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 by Public Policy Polling. Only 26% said they were opposed. Full results are available at http://www.mpp.org/DEpoll.
"This is a very straightforward proposal that is supported by an overwhelming majority of Delaware voters," Capecchi said. "People are tired of seeing their communities' limited law enforcement resources spent on arresting, prosecuting, and jailing people for marijuana possession. It's draconian, it's antiquated, and it's time for a new approach."
In a letter to the editor of the The New York Times published in March, Gov. Jack Markell (D) said he is "hopeful that [his] state will decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana."
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws removing the threat of jail time for simple marijuana possession.
The Marijuana Policy Project, the nation's largest marijuana policy organization, has been responsible for changing most state-level marijuana laws since 2000. For more information, visit http://www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.