Last Tuesday, Delaware House lawmakers approved legislation that would treat simple cannabis possession and personal use by adults like a traffic violation. This would replace the current criminal penalties that come with expensive fines. This bill was passed in a House vote by 24 to 14. It will now head to the Senate. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell does support the decriminalization of cannabis.
Delaware House Decriminalizes Possession of Cannabis
Opponents, of course, firmly believe that decriminalization will embolden drug dealers operating in a black market. There is no data that shows that to be the case in any states who have already decriminalized. States that have legalized seem to show the exact opposite. Drug cartels are suffering. Other opponents are worried that decriminalization will prevent law enforcement from initiating important searches on suspicion of simple cannabis possession.
Delawareans under the age of 18 would still face criminal penalties for possessing marijuana. Those between the ages of 18 and 21 would face criminal penalties upon their second arrest. That change to the legislation caused angst among the bill’s opponents and its supporters, who questioned why juveniles would be treated differently than adults when caught with pot.
“I do have concerns that what we are doing is taking our most vulnerable population … and treating them the most harshly,” Lisa Minutola, chief of legal services for the Delaware Public Defender’s office, said during testimony on the House floor.
The legislation would only impose $100 civil fines on adults found with up to an ounce of cannabis, or those found using the drug privately. Police could still confiscate the drug when imposing a civil penalty. Selling marijuana would remain a criminal offense. Smoking in a moving vehicle also would remain criminal, as would smoking in public places. The amendment strictly defines a public place as an area accessible to the public, which includes any outdoor area within 10 feet of a sidewalk or 10 feet of a window of a public or private building.