The governor acted promptly after the state Senate voted 12-9 in approval of House Bill 39, supporting his claim from earlier this year, suggesting that decriminalizing marijuana was on his bucket list for 2015. The measure, however, was only pushed through thanks to the hands of Democratic forces. None of the state’s Republicans offered their support at any juncture of the legislative process – calling it a vote they would “really, really regret.”
Under the new proposal, which was introduced in the House by Representative Helene Keeley, those caught in possession of less than an ounce of cannabis will be served with a $100 ticket instead of making an arrest. The current penalty for this offense is a fine of $575, up to six months in jail and a tarnished record.
Lawmakers hope Delaware’s new decriminalization law, which is set to take effect in six months, will keep otherwise innocent people out of the criminal justice system. After the signing of House Bill 39, the governor’s office restated its mission to knock the state out of its number 17 ranking for the most cannabis possession arrests made per capita.
“The governor remains committed to reducing the number of people entering the criminal justice system and refocusing resources where they are needed most,” Kelly Bachman, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement.
Drug policy experts applaud the state’s governing powers for taking a stand on an issue that has previously resulted in over 2,500 Delaware residents per year being arrested for simply possession.
“We commend Governor Markell and the Delaware Legislature for moving the state forward and leaving its antiquated marijuana possession law behind,” Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “Adults in Delaware will no longer be branded as criminals simply for consuming a substance that is undeniably less harmful than alcohol. Law enforcement officials will be able to spend more time addressing serious crimes instead of arresting and prosecuting adults for simple marijuana possession.”
States and individual municipalities that have moved to decriminalize marijuana are reporting fewer cannabis arrests, as well as millions of dollars in savings to their respective budgets.
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