Pot smokers in Delaware have good reason to light up and celebrate this Friday—that’s the day the state’s new marijuana decriminalization laws take effect.
The new law was legislated earlier this year when Representative Helene Keeley and Senator Margaret Rose Henry introduced HB 39. The proposed bill received final approval June 18 and was signed by Governor Jack Markell that same day.
Under current laws, possession of marijuana up to one ounce is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a $575 fine and three months in jail.
Once HB 39 takes effective tomorrow, “the possession or private use of one ounce or less of marijuana will no longer trigger criminal penalties or create a criminal record for adults 21 years of age and older,” said a local Delaware news station. “Instead, it will be a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine.”
“Adults between the ages of 18 and 20 will face the same $100 civil fine for their first offense, then an unclassified misdemeanor for subsequent offenses, which they can have expunged from their records when they reach age 21.”
“Marijuana possession by minors and public consumption by people of any age will remain misdemeanors.”
Probably the most significant change is that people can no longer be sent to jail for possessing up to an ounce of pot.
Delaware’s decriminalization law will make it the 19th state in the U.S. to remove jail time for possession of small amounts of weed, The Washington Times reported.
“Delaware’s marijuana policy is about to become a lot more reasonable,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in The Washington Times article.
“Most people agree adults should not face jail time or the life-altering consequences of a criminal record just for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol. Taxpayers certainly don’t want to foot the bill for it, and fortunately, they will not have to any longer.”
Law enforcement agencies in Delaware, however, want residents to be clear that the new law doesn’t legalize the possession or use of marijuana, it just dramatically decreases the penalties linked to these acts.
“There will be some confusion because people may think marijuana is legal now, and that is not the case,” New Castle County Police Chief Elmer Setting told reporters from Delaware Online. “Hopefully they read and understand the law.”
Setting’s comments are a clear reminder that while decriminalization laws are certainly a step in the right direction, they are not enough.
Legalization, rather than simply decriminalization, is the only real solution to the war on drugs.