Delaware House Committee approves legislation removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession

Dover, DE — The Delaware House of Representatives Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved a bill 5-4 on Wednesday that would remove criminal penalties and potential jail time for possession of a small amount of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.

HB 39, introduced by Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South), would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine with no possibility of jail. Under current Delaware law, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $575 fine and up to three months in jail.

“This is a modest, commonsense policy change that is long overdue in Delaware,” Rep. Keeley said. “Simply possessing a small amount of marijuana does not warrant jail time and the other serious consequences of a criminal conviction. The punishment should fit the crime, not cause more harm than the crime.”

More than two-thirds of Delaware voters (68%) support removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession and making it a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time, according to a statewide survey conducted in March by Public Policy Polling. Only 26% said they were opposed. Full results are available at http://www.mpp.org/DEpoll.

“Criminalizing people for marijuana possession is neither reasonable nor popular,” said Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “People should not be put in jail or saddled with a criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol. Most voters agree, the governor agrees, and hopefully most House members will agree, too.”

In a letter to the editor of the The New York Times published in March, Gov. Jack Markell (D) said he is “hopeful that [his] state will decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws removing the threat of jail time for possession of marijuana, including Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, where voters have approved measures making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.
The Marijuana Policy Project

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