With a Thursday night signature by Governor Jack Markell (D), Delaware just became the 20th state to decriminalize marijuana. Before you merrily skip down the street with an armload of pot, it’s important to understand that while marijuana was decriminalized in the “First State,” there are some important caveats.
First of all, it’s still illegal to grow or sell pot. And if you happen to have anything over an ounce on your person, consequences can be seriously unpleasant. That includes possible jail time.
Under the recently signed legislation, which goes into full effect in six months, an adult with up to an ounce of marijuana on their person will be given a $100 fine. Being caught with a small amount of pot while in a vehicle or within 10 feet of public property would be considered misdemeanor offenses.
In case you were wondering, remains a criminal offense for anyone under the age of 18.
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) June 19, 2015
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Helene Keeley (D) and passed through both the state’s House and Senate on the strength of the Democrats alone. Republicans staunchly opposed decriminalizing marijuana as they were concerned the action would send the wrong message to Delaware’s youth.
“This is a vote we’re going to really, really regret,” said Republican Sen. Colin Bonini. “Would you want your kid smoking weed? I think the answer is overwhelmingly no.”
Republican sentiments were also echoed by police groups, who also opposed the bill’s passage. The Marijuana Policy Project in Washington was pleased with the outcome and spokesman Robert Capecchi commended Delaware with having taken “an important step” towards a more “sensible” marijuana policy.
“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.”
According to Vox, marijuana is only legal in four U.S. states: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Marijuana usage is also legal in Washington, D.C. Thus far it has been decriminalized—but not legalized—in 15 states, including Delaware. Thus far, Delaware is one of 23 states where pot is legal strictly for medical purposes.
— Boing Boing (@BoingBoing) June 19, 2015
USA Today reports that the move to legalize marijuana in Delaware was in large part based on findings that laws were enforced largely along racial lines. Despite making up a small portion of the state population, in 2010 it was determined that black residents were three times to be more likely to be arrested when stopped with marijuana.
Overall, the tone behind marijuana legislation and sentiments toward pot seem to be moving in a direction where nationwide legalization might be right around the corner.
[Image Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images]