Overhaul of Delaware’s drug laws passes House

State lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation Tuesday that revamps Delaware’s drug charges and sentencing laws.

Rep. Melanie George (D-Bear) is the bill’s sponsor who says drug law reform is long overdue.

“This legislation is a compromise between the parties in our criminal justice system – both law enforcement and defense. All parties agree that current drug laws unevenly punish people caught in a cycle of addiction and do not effectively address the root of the problem – those who make and sell these dangerous drugs.”

House Bill 19 reduces charges on minor drug users and increases penalties for drug dealers, creating three main categories for drug crimes: possession, drug dealing (delivery, manufacture and possession with intent to deliver) and aggravated possession (possession of large amounts indicative of drug dealing). Each of the crimes would have multiple levels of seriousness depending on a number of aggravating factors including proximity to a school or park, prior record, involvement of children in the offense or resisting arrest with force or violence.

“This bill increases the penalties on the offenders committing the more serious drug crimes to keep them off the streets while giving nonviolent addicts the opportunity to get treatment, retain their jobs and continue to be productive members of society. It also gives our judges more discretion to take aggravating circumstances into account when handing down a sentence,” said Rep. George.

State Public Defender Brendan O’Neill says under the legislation, drug users will be treated differently than drug dealers. HB 19 will make more drug dealing offenses subject to minimum sentences. However, the length of minimum mandatory sentences would be reduced to two years. Judges would be free to impose up to 25 years, but only the first two years would be mandatory.

“Today’s passage in the House is a big step forward toward meaningful reform of Delaware’s drug laws,” O’Neill said. “Simple possession of drugs is not a felony and the focus is to provide drug treatment for users. Under the new law, drug dealing is always a felony with dealers sentenced more harshly than users.”

HB 19 now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal