Reactions have been mixed to Delaware attorney general’s announcement this week that she would direct her deputies not to prosecute possession of up to six ounces of marijuana if the person wasn’t charged with selling the drug.
Kathy Jennings, who was sworn into office in January, said on Monday that she wants police to expand use of civil citations and fines under a law enacted in December 2015. That law applies to adults caught with up to one ounce of marijuana.
State Sen. Dave Lawson, a former state trooper and Republican who sits on the body’s judicial committee, said Jennings has begun her four-year term by overstepping her bounds.
“I’m kind of amazed that she thought she had the authority to circumvent the legislature and legalize marijuana on her own,’’ Lawson said.
Lawson stressed that six ounces, the amount cited by Jennings as not fit for prosecution by a non-dealer, “is a gallon freezer bag packed full.”
The Kent County Republican added that Jennings is “way out of her lane.”
She should not have done it,” he added. “That office is for prosecution of criminals and law enforcement brings those charges. The legislature makes the laws. I mean it’s a whole ball game here. It’s not just the prosecutors who run the courts, [it’s also] the law and legislature.”
Ten states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. Delaware has medical marijuana outlets and has decriminalized up to an ounce, but a legislative effort to fully legalize the drug failed more than once over the last two years. Supporters in the General Assembly are drafting a new bill that’s expected to be introduced this spring.
State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman, a Democrat whose district includes part of Wilmington, supports legalization and applauds Jennings’ new policy.
“Allowing people to possess more, it’s a sensible reform,’’ Lockman said, calling Jennings’ move a recognition that “the effort that is required to arrest and prosecute may be more than what’s necessary to keep people safe.”
“I’m excited to see the attorney general has recognized the calls for this type of reform,” she added. “It’s great progressive piece of policymaking.”
Jennings also has the support of Vaughn Bond, police chief of New Castle County, the largest county in Delaware with 560,000 residents.
“She is the chief law enforcement officer for the state of Delaware so we will follow her direction and guidelines,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Delaware state police said officials are reviewing Jennings’ new policy. Wilmington police had no comment. Marvin Mailey Jr., who is Dover’s police chief and heads the Delaware Police Chief’s Council, did not respond to a request for comment.
State Rep. Krista Griffith, a former prosecutor and vice chair of House Judiciary Committee, said Jennings’ move on marijuana is one of a series she announced Monday that will allow law enforcement to focus on serious and violent crimes.
Not prosecuting pot possession, Griffith said, “reflects what’s going on across the country.”