Supporters for legalized marijuana in Delaware make their case

Advocates and Delaware residents posed for a photo before meeting legislators to discuss cannabis legislation. (Newsworks/Zoe Read)

Advocates and Delaware residents posed for a photo before meeting legislators to discuss cannabis legislation. (Newsworks/Zoe Read)

Delaware’s cannabis legalization advocates are urging the General Assembly to pass legislation to tax and regulate recreational marijuana consumption for adults, much like alcohol.

A couple dozen Delawareans attended the Cannabis Bureau of Delawar’s 7th Citizens’ Lobbying Day at Legislative Hall in Dover on Thursday.

Those who  came listened to presentations by advocates, lobbyists and attorneys in favor of legalization, and set up appointments with their representatives and senators to discuss the issue.

“It’s so important the legislators hear from their constituents, because there are so many people that support this issue,” said Zoë Patchell of the bureau. “But what we’re hearing from legislators is they don’t hear from constituents on this issue, and we feel it has to do with the stigma around this issue and the illegality of it.”

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The personal use of marijuana for adults is decriminalized in Delaware, and medical marijuana is legal and regulated to individuals with certain illness.

Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, is drafting legislation to legalize cannabis. Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, said on the campaign trail that he wasn’t ready to support full legalization.

Advocates say full legalization would address concerns related to the criminal justice system, boost the economy and address a looming $350 million dollar deficit.

“The biggest concern is that cannabis prohibition is just as ineffective and as problematic as alcohol prohibition,” Patchell said. “It’s a complete and utter failure that’s costing the state up to $22.3 million annually and has done nothing to reduce the use, supply or demand of cannabis.”

She and others also say it would stop the illicit market, the numerous arrests of non-violent citizens and an imbalance in the justice system. The American Civil Liberties Union reports African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

“The ending of prohibition is very near and dear to my heart. I’ve seen a lot of injustices over the last 15 years—needless arrests, broken homes, lost job opportunities—all things we hold near and dear and take for granted every day,” said criminal defense attorney Tom Donovan.

“Nearly 40 percent of all drug arrests are for simple possession. We’re spending $22 million a year enforcing these cannabis laws. Those resources are better used solving violent crime, property crimes, burglaries, thefts and assaults.” 

Advocates also say legalization would boost the economy and create hundreds of jobs. Donovan said dealers would be able to make a living in a safe and legal manner.

“There are a lot of police officers in Dover circulating poor neighborhoods and communities and arresting people for selling small amounts of cannabis to people willing to buy it and willing to pay taxes on it,” he said.

“So hopefully those young entrepreneurs will get jobs in the legal cannabis community—help build the economy from the ground up, use the resources we have.”

Charles Bryant Jr of Dover said he attended the event, because as a six-year active duty combat veteran who suffered from PTSD he’s seen how medical marijuana has benefited the veteran community—and he wants Delaware to benefit from the taxation and regulation of full legalization.

“Other states that have passed similar legislation have relied on votes of citizens. In Delaware the only way we’re going to pass this law is if legislators take this bill forward and speak on behalf of the citizens,” he said.

“The more citizens in Delaware that let those legislators know this is something the majority of citizens would vote for the better chance we have of a bill being introduced and passed.”

Yamil Millet of Dover said marijuana has been a better solution to his ADHD than the drugs his doctor prescribed. He said he believes legalization of recreational marijuana also would stop some of the problems Delaware faces today.

“Right now in Delaware our prisons are overpopulated just because of the crime rate of marijuana. It’s dumb, because it’s not as strong as these other drugs, and for you to get so much time and punishment for it is just not fair,” Millet said.

“We need to help (the legislators) realize it’s not a change for the worse, it’s a change for the best. For us to do that we have to make sure we stick together and make them realize it’s not for fun and games—it’s for changing lives.”

Kelly Maresca of Newark is a medical patient, but said she wanted to reach out to her legislators and reiterate that legalization of personal use would boost the economy and increase revenues for the State.

“Taxing and regulating this industry will open up incredible opportunities for local businesses, create jobs in sectors suffering right now from layoffs,” she said. “I think this is a great thing for the state of Delaware and this state would be a fool not to take advantage of this industry.”

Patchell said Thursday was the largest turnout since her group started the event in 2014. According to a University of Delaware poll, 61 percent of Delawareans are in favor of legalization.

“It’s really important the constituents come here and tell their representatives and senators they’re one of the 61 percent of Delawareans that support this issue, and Delaware can’t afford to wait on this issues,” Patchell said. “Peoples’ lives are being ruined, there’s a lot of negative collateral damage in communities, and we must end cannabis prohibition now.”

State Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, didn’t schedule meetings with citizens on Thursday, but showed up to the meeting because he’s in support of legalization. He said he believes legislation will eventually pass.

“We’ve already decriminalized it, I think this public policy decision has already been made. I think Delaware is in a bad grey area, I think we’re the worst of both worlds where we decriminalize it so it’s not being prosecuted but at the same time it’s not legal,” Bonini said. “Let’s do this right, let’s regulate it, let’s keep it out of hands of kids, let’s make sure it’s a safe product.”

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