Delaware marijuana bill receives support

Supporters of cannabis use are praising Delaware lawmakers for introducing a bill that would allow users to possess small amounts of the substance without penalties.

“We commend Representative Keeley, Senator (Margaret Rose) Henry, and all of the co-sponsors for speaking out about this ineffective, costly, failed policy, and taking a step in the right direction,” said Zoe Patchell, communications director for the Delaware chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana. “The bill will eliminate 47 percent of all drug arrests, free up our overcrowded jails, and significantly cut the multi-million dollar budget needed to enforce cannabis prohibition. 

Under the proposed legislation, cannabis users older than 21, would be allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Use of the substance is not permitted in public places such as streets, sidewalks or parks. Violators would be given a civil penalty and charged a $100 fee. Currently, anyone caught with even small amounts of marijuana face a Class B misdemeanor and penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, said the legislation could free up millions of dollars the state currently spends on prosecuting those caught with small amounts of the drug. “Should we be spending millions of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate people for possessing an ounce of marijuana? Is it the best use of law enforcement to bust people with a small amount of marijuana in their pocket?” Rep. Keeley asked. “Many other states have been moving in this direction for some time, and we should have that conversation. We need to evaluate whether our laws are having the desired effect and how they should evolve.”

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The bill has more than a dozen co-sponsors from the House and the Senate and Governor Jack Markell’s office said he’s  “open to continuing conversations about changing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.”

“I have no illusions that we are definitely going to pass this next month,” Keeley added. “But I also look at the number of co-sponsors we’ve been able to gain and the public polling data supporting bills like this, and you can see that there is a movement to make this happen.”

A spokesman for the Attorney General Beau Biden’s office said they’re continuing to review the bill.  

Legislators go back into session June 3.  

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