Marijuana decriminalization bill heads to Delaware House for a vote

(file/NewsWorks)

(file/NewsWorks)

A bill that would reduce the penalties for those caught with small amounts of marijuana is making its way through the Delaware Legislature.

House Bill 371 removes jail time and criminal charges for those in possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

Instead, offenders would receive a $250 civil fine and would have to forfeit the substance. Those under 21 would also receive an unclassified misdemeanor. Parents of minors who are caught with marijuana would also be notified.

The amended bill specifies that the legislation is only for “leaf” marijuana, which includes seeds and stems. Existing penalties for possessing hashish and cannabis oil products would stay on the books.

Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South, the prime sponsor of the bill, said she decided to introduce the legislation after hearing too many stories of people missing out on jobs and other opportunities because of a marijuana possession charge on their record.

“Most recently, as an example, someone who was going in and having an interview, the company remains anonymous, a professional position in upper management, the person was denied the position because in their younger years, age 21 or 22, they had an arrest for a small amount of marijuana,” she explained.

Last year, 2,334 adults and 298 juveniles were charged with marijuana possession in Delaware, according to Evelyn Nestlerode of the Delaware controller general’s office. Nine of those individuals were sentenced to jail time.

Currently, anyone caught with small amounts of the substance face a Class B misdemeanor, jail time and fines of more than $1,000.

Zoe Patchell, spokeswoman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, explained the other damages that marijuana charges can create.

“Aside from threat of jail and stiff fines, cannabis arrest can result in expulsion from school, loss of employment, loss of housing, loss of license, loss of property, loss of children and difficulty gaining employment in the future,” she said. “A student arrested for cannabis can lose their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or be denied for financial aid completely.”

Keeley added that the proposed legislation does not legalize marijuana, and she’s not attempting to open that conversation.

“My personal intent at this point in time is to not have a discussion about legalizing marijuana at all,” she said.

The bill cleared committee on Wednesday and now heads to the House for a vote.

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