New legislation in Delaware could make that state the next to decriminalize marijuana possession.
The bill, introduced in the Delaware Legislature May 29, would allow adults over 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of weed for personal use without facing criminal penalties. It would also lower the fine for public consumption to $100.
“So many people’s entry into the criminal justice system involves possession or use of very small amounts of marijuana,” said state Sen. Bryan Townsend. “In my mind, marijuana is not in the same grouping as a lot of the drugs we need to be focusing our efforts on.”
Currently, it’s a misdemeanor to possess marijuana under Delaware law, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,150. Though the legislation would eliminate criminal penalties, it wouldn’t legalize the marijuana industry.
The bill has strong Democratic support in a state dominated by that party, but little Republican backing. It has about 15 Democratic sponsors in the state House and Senate, with no GOP sponsors. Republican lawmakers plan to oppose it as it makes its way toward a vote in the current legislative session, which ends in June.
Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, a Republican, said his party opposes the bill because cannabis is a “pathway to greater drug use.”
If the bill passes, Delaware would become the 17th state to decriminalize weed. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have gone further and legalized the drug completely, while two others, Alaska and Oregon, could vote to do so in November. And 23 states have adopted medical marijuana programs.
Though decriminalization is several steps short of legalization, it’s a move in the right direction. It removes the threat of jail time for everyday users, and it lowers the priority that police place on investigating cannabis crimes.
But it still leaves consumers with no way to get their weed legally, and it leaves growers, processors, and distributors exposed to prosecution.