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OfflineSleepAid
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Delaware marijuana decriminalization bill introduced
    #767843 - 01/29/15 10:57 PM (1 year, 10 months ago)



Delawareans caught with an ounce or less of marijuana would face just civil fines, not a criminal record, under decriminalization legislation introduced Thursday by a Wilmington lawmaker in the state House of Representatives.

Rep. Helene Keeley, the south Wilmington Democrat, said state residents should not have trouble getting a job, or finding financial aid for college, simply because they were busted with a small amount of pot.

The legislation, House Bill 39, would treat simple possession of the drug, and private use, like a traffic ticket. Selling the drug, and also possessing marijuana with an intent to sell, would remain criminal offenses.

"There's definitely a generational shift going on here," Keeley said in a Thursday interview.

"There are a lot of people out there who, instead of going home and having a martini, or going home and having a glass of wine, they want to go home and take a couple hits. For them that is just as relaxing as having a glass of wine."

The legislation was expected after a similar measure last year, also introduced by Keeley, cleared a House committee but was never debated on the full House floor before lawmakers adjourned on June 30.

Gov. Jack Markell has also signaled support for decriminalization of marijuana, making it more likely the measure could clear Legislative Hall and reach his desk by the end of June. Twelve other Democratic members of the General Assembly are listed as co-sponsors on the legislation.

"The governor hasn't reviewed Rep. Keeley's proposed legislation, but as we have said in the past, he is open to continuing conversations about decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use," Jonathon Dworkin, a spokesman for Markell, said Thursday.

Keeley's bill would impose a $100 fine for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and private use of the drug.

Fines double if not paid within 90 days, and administrative fees also apply.

Under the legislation, those caught smoking marijuana in a public place would still face a criminal, unclassified misdemeanor charge, punishable by a $200 fine and up to five days behind bars.

Keeley's legislation does not specify different penalties for offenders of different ages.

Pot activists cheered introduction of the measure.

"It's long past overdue that Delaware decriminalizes possession of a small amount," said Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for decriminalization and legalization.

"Individuals shouldn't be saddled with criminal records for simply possessing something that's safer than alcohol. It's a draconian punishment for something that's inherently a nonviolent act. And it's a waste of resources for Delaware law enforcement."

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is currently prosecuted as an unclassified misdemeanor under current Delaware law, punishable by up to three months in prison and fines. With an aggravating factor, penalties become stricter, with Delawareans facing up to six months in jail and up to $1,150 in fines.

In 2013, there were 2,334 unclassified misdemeanor charges for adults possessing marijuana in Delaware, according to state data. Just nine people were sentenced to jail time for marijuana possession and all of those cases involved aggravating factors, including aggravated menacing and weapons charges.

Eight percent of defendants in 2013 were ultimately found guilty of the original possession. About 70 percent saw charges dismissed or entered a drug diversion program.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have stopped arresting their residents for possession of marijuana, including Washington state, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon, where voters legalized the drug in ballot measures.

Groups representing police officers could oppose Keeley's decriminalization bill here in Delaware.

Tom Brackin, president of the Delaware State Troopers Association, the union representing state troopers, said his group has several concerns with decriminalization. Brackin expressed concern that those found with marijuana under the age of 21 face only civil penalties.

Brackin also questioned whether 1 ounce of marijuana should be considered the "personal use" limit. He said dealers intent on selling marijuana could carry an ounce and claim they have the drug only for personal purposes.

"We've had some discussions with Representative Keeley. They were positive discussions," Brackin said. "We're hopeful that we can continue to talk to her and other legislators about it. If it looks like we can't defeat [the legislation], we want to make sure we improve it so everybody is more comfortable."

Zoe Patchell, a Delaware pot activist and co-chair of the Cannabis Bureau of Delaware, says her group's ultimate goal remains full taxation and regulation of the drug. But she called the introduction of Keeley's decriminalization measure a good first step.

"Ultimately we're looking for a taxed and regulated market," said Patchell, who led a delegation of about 40 pot activists to Legislative Hall on Thursday to meet with lawmakers. "It's the only way to end the black market and generate significant revenue for Delaware and create a plethora of jobs this industry already has."

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