Delaware Governor Signs Mandate Decriminalizing Marijuana Use

In an effort to reduce prison populations for low level offenses, Governor Markell signed a controversial marijuana decriminalization bill that will take effect in six months, according to The News Journal. The bill, which was met with resistance from Republican representatives, allows residents of Delaware to possess no more than one ounce of marijuana for personal use at their domain, although police could still confiscate the drug.

Delaware joins a growing number of states that have decriminalized usage ranging from mere grams up to an ounce. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state have full legal use while many states like Nevada have decriminalized marijuana usage for those over 21, or similarly loosened laws. In the Maine cities of Portland and South Portland, usage is legal while outside city limits is just a civil infraction. Note that decriminalization, in many cases, means civil procedures could ensue even if criminal litigation is avoided. All told, 19 states have enacted some degree of decriminalization of marijuana with more expected to follow suit.

In 2013, the ACLU conducted an in-depth analysis of marijuana-related arrests in Delaware, finding African Americans were three times more likely to be arrested than whites for marijuana infractions, a stunning find considering they make up a smaller part of Delaware’s population. Because marijuana arrests mar individuals with unnecessary criminal records, movements by the Cannibis Bureau of Delaware and similar groups helped compel Markell to sign this bill.

Marijuana hasn’t proven to cause dangerous criminal activity, death or general erratic behavior like alcohol or synthetic drugs like K2 or bath salts, the main reason activist groups have moved to legalize personal usage. Senator Pettyjohn (R, Georgetown) finds an ounce of marijuana – enough to roll roughly 40 joints – is a bit excessive for personal use, citing one could throw a decent size party with such an amount. Moreover, allowing such a substantial amount for private use could provide enough shelter for drug dealers; since personal usage amounts were signed into law, individuals must find somewhere to “score” which means local dealing will exist somehow unless one flies to Colorado.

Delaware AG Denn supported the measure to lowering the infraction from arrest to civil penalty, a sensible choice given the often overcrowded jail system for small possession charges. The sale of marijuana in Delaware remained criminalized as no Republican voted to allow marijuana growth or transacting. Also, minors under 21 will be subject to penalties as would individuals transporting or using marijuana in moving vehicles. Using marijuana in public places – “public” defined as any area within 10 feet of windows or doors – is still prohibited.

[Photo by Bruce Bennett / Getty Images News]