New Legislation Proposed to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

Filed in Delaware by on June 2, 2014

Yes, this is actually happening in Delaware. Rep, Helene Keeley (my rep!) has sponsored HB 371, legislation that would allow Delawareans to possess less than an ounce of marijuana and makes public consumption of marijuana a civil (rather than criminal) offense. Should this pass, Delaware would join 18 other states and multiple municipalities in helping to de-escalate the War on Drugs. People with small amounts of marijuana are a wasteful target for law enforcement (unless, of course, they are suspects in other crimes) and it is well past time to refocus limited dollars and resources for law enforcement on the crimes that actually harm people or property. I support this effort. Here is the press release on this bill:

Keeley Bill Would Reclassify Possession of Small
Amounts of Marijuana

HB 371 removes criminal charges for possessing less than one ounce
of marijuana, makes public consumption civil penalty

DOVER – Delaware would join a growing number of states that provide alternatives to incarceration for people possessing a small amount of marijuana under legislation introduced Thursday.

Sponsored by Rep. Helene Keeley, House Bill 371 would exempt from criminal possession people who possess an ounce or less of marijuana for personal use and consumption. A person consuming marijuana in a public place – such as a street, park, public building or business open to the public – could face a civil penalty of $100. Possessing more than an ounce of marijuana still would result in criminal prosecution.

Currently, 18 states – including Connecticut, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska and Rhode Island – have removed incarceration as a penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. In Delaware, possession of any amount of marijuana is punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,150 fine.

“This is an issue that touches on a lot of different areas. Should we be spending millions of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate people for possessing an ounce of marijuana? Is it the best use of law enforcement to bust people with a small amount of marijuana in their pocket?” asked Rep. Keeley, D-Wilmington South. “Many other states have been moving in this direction for some time, and we should have that conversation. We need to evaluate whether our laws are having the desired effect and how they should evolve.”

A March poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showed that more than two-thirds of Delawareans support the change, with a majority of Democrats and Republicans, and all age groups backing the move to a civil penalty.

In 2011, Delaware passed legislation to allow people with a range of chronic and debilitating illnesses to legally use medical marijuana to treat their symptoms. That program has been delayed due to concerns of federal government enforcement but is now moving forward.

Rep. Keeley said that HB 371 is being introduced late in the session to begin a dialogue on the issue and to educate the public about the subject. While she is not is not pushing the bill forward, Rep. Keeley said public support could change that.

“I have no illusions that we are definitely going to pass this next month,” Rep. Keeley said. “But I also look at the number of co-sponsors we’ve been able to gain and the public polling data supporting bills like this, and you can see that there is a movement to make this happen.”

HB 371, which has 11 House co-sponsors and six Senate co-sponsors, has been assigned to the House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee.

Co-sponsors include: Reps. Baumbach, Heffernan, J. Johnson, Mitchell, Osienski, Paradee, Potter, B. Short, Viola, D.E. Williams, K. Williams; Sens. McDowell, Peterson, Poore, Sokola and Henry and Townsend on the Senate side.

You can see the text of HB 371 here.

Very nice job, Representative Keeley!

What do you think about this bill?

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"You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas." -Shirley Chisholm

Comments (17)

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  1. fightingbluehen says:

    I can’t see it happening. Not in this COP state.

  2. Turk 184 says:

    This makes sense on several levels, especially the revenue stream it would produce for the State.

  3. While door-knocking in 2012, I had a parole officer, who had been a Wilmington police officer, note that decriminalizing marijuana is necessary to better focus our resources, which are drastically over-stretched at this time.

  4. Dorian Gray says:

    For the record Turk, I think this move proposes the decriminalisation of possession, not the commerical sale. Hence no impact to state revenue, yet.

    Obviously this is the direction things are moving – similar to the marriage equality issue. Facts are that 1.) the herb is safer than booze and 2.) completely de facto decriminalised for affluent white people anyway.

    So whether it takes a few months or ten years, eventually we’ll wonder why we put people in prison for getting a buzz from smoking buds from a plant.

  5. Geezer says:

    @FBH: I agree with you. It won’t happen until the State Police decide to allow it.

  6. Jason330 says:

    I’m in favor of the commercial sale. Tobacco smokers and red light runners shouldn’t have to shoulder the entire revenue burden on their own.

  7. MikeM2784 says:

    I think this is a good first step, though full legalization would make more sense because you could regulate it for safety, put the drug dealers out of business (untaxed business transaction), and tax the sale of it. As proposed, this law would still save money on the incarceration and legal proceedings (public defender time, etc.) that goes into the pointless process of arrest for those with a small amount of the substance.

    I was surprised to hear, when this was first proposed, the folks on 105.9 generally in support of it. Pressure needs to be put on lawmakers to actually listen to their constituents on this instead of the party line. Libertarian leaning or revenue minded Republicans might be persuaded….

  8. bamboozer says:

    It’s a step forward, as for the comments about the Delaware State Police I completely agree, they have too much power and abuse Delawareans at will, myself included.

  9. Steve Newton says:

    @Geezer and FBH–the State Police will be able to delay this (and commercial sale) for possibly 2-3 years, but as with the social conservatives on marriage equality they are now officially fighting a rearguard action.

    And if somebody ever gets around to linking State Police opposition to ending the death penalty with State Police opposition to decriminalization, we might even begin to see some cracks in the mindless support for retired State Troopers when they run for public office.

  10. Geezer says:

    @Steve: I agree, it will only be a delay. They will see the benefits relatively quickly.

    I would guess that most states will at least decriminalize in the next several years. By 2020, I expect about half will allow sales, and once it’s clear that no crime wave will develop, the extra money to the states through legal sales (no giant windfall, but every little bit helps) should help dispel the sluggard states.

  11. Aint's Taking it Any More says:

    Can’t speak to the State Police standing in the way but according to the New Journal, presuming they got it right, Matt Denn does not support de-criminalization of small amounts of pot. Article appears online:

    If accurate, that won’t help the cause.

  12. Mmmm says:

    “Denn doubts claims that many Delawareans are sitting in jail for petty marijuana possession, saying he wants to see “hard statistics” on the number of people incarcerated. “I am told by current prosecutors that there few, if any, Delawareans in jail solely for possessing marijuana in the quantities described in the bill,” he said.”

    Really…. the answer is zero and the zero has been around for may, may years. Please be truthful and honest. I believe a standard for Mr. Denn”s current office and the one he seeks. But “No” wait what I’m I saying. Lets hire a consultant to research the matter. One million sounds fair, what do ya think. More or less? Line up ladies and gentlemen. I will have the purse strings in hand tomorrow. Please vote for me…

  13. I think this is a trial balloon, in that it’s being introduced at the beginning of the last month of the current General Assembly.

    But we’ll likely be hosting lotsa reggae festivals within 10 years. And perhaps Jack-In-The-Box will make a comeback. Nothing like ‘talking to Jack’ at about 1:30 am when nothing else is open…I’ve BEEN there. Got the secret sauce stains on my raincoat to prove it.

  14. cassandra_m says:

    Denn doubts claims that many Delawareans are sitting in jail for petty marijuana possession

    He’s probably right about that — few people arrested for simple possession rarely stay in jail for very long. They probably plead out, but you still have police resources, DA resources, maybe Public Defender resources, definitely detention resources that have been expended to harrass someone with a small bit of pot in his or her possession. That person wasn’t arrested for selling to someone or for property crimes that might have financed the acquisition of that pot. But that person now has a criminal record — and the state (and municipalities) just expended a ton of money to nail someone who doesn’t even count as a little fish.

    There are a *ton* of real, criminal problems in Delaware (hey Matt — let’s walk around West Center City so you can see what isn’t getting done) and the pool of money available to deal with that isn’t growing much. You’d think that there might be some incentives here just in making better use of scarce state resources. Every time I talk to people at the AGs office, I get that they are stretched too thin. And stupid possession beefs is a way to pander to the police — it isn’t about a better use of resources that functionally don’t exist.

  15. Rhonda H Tuman says:

    Why legalize an unregulated drug? The acquisition of this drug is illegal, but worse the quality of the drug is an unknown. If we are going to legalize a drug, then do it the right way. This is a quick fix to a bigger problem. Legalize small quantities, sell it openly, and tax it. This will control the quality and add to the tax base

  16. Ezra Temko says:

    It’s on tomorrow’s agenda for a committee hearing.

    Chamber: House
    Committee: Public Safety & Homeland Security
    Chairman: Mitchell
    Room: House Minority Caucus Room
    Date/Time: 06/04/2014 02:30:00 PM

  17. AQC says:

    It’s not getting out of committee.