Effective as of Dec. 18, 2015, Delaware has become the 19th state to remove jail time for personal amounts of cannabis. Possession of less than an ounce of cannabis will not lead to incarceration. Similar efforts are happening next year in other states such as Missouri.
Recently, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed HB 39 into law, which decriminalizes small amounts of cannabis in the state. Karen O’Keefe is director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project. “Delaware’s marijuana policy is about to become a lot more reasonable,” O’Keefe stated. “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.” The punishment for personal cannabis possession has been dropped from a $575 fine plus three months in jail to a civil violation with a possible $100 fine.
According to the ACLU, blacks in Delaware were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis. Disproportionate cannabis arrests have led many local municipalities and states to move forward with dropping or decriminalizing minor cannabis offenses altogether.
Local law enforcement isn’t thrilled about the changes. “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 said. “Hopefully, they read and understand the law.” Minors under 21 in Delaware still face criminal penalties for personal possession.
“It’s safer for me to choose cannabis over alcohol,” said Zoe Patchell, a cannabis activist and member of the Cannabis Bureau of Delaware. Public smoking is still prohibited and a public place is defined as anywhere 10 feet away from any window or sidewalk.