A Delaware bill to eliminate the possibility of arrest and criminal prosecution for low-level cannabis possession in the state was signed into law yesterday, showing that the inhumane and senseless federal drug war continues to take it on the chin from state resistance.
Introduced by State Reps. Helene Keeley (D-3) and 14 bicameral co-sponsors, House Bill 39 (HB39) changes established law enforcement priorities in the state of Delaware related to cannabis possession. The bill passed in the state House on June 2 with a 24-14 vote, and then passed in the state Senate on June 18 with a 12-9 vote. It was signed into law on June 18 by Gov. Jack Markell.
"The governor remains committed to reducing the number of people entering the criminal justice system and refocusing resources where they are needed most and House Bill 39 supports these efforts," Gov. Markell's spokeswoman Kelly Bachman said in a public statement.
Now that HB39 is signed into law, the Delaware state code is altered to make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil infraction rather than a criminal offense. Individuals guilty of possession are mandated to pay a $100 fine. Public use of up to one ounce carries no more than five days in jail and a $200 fine.
Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana is still considered an unclassified misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of no more than $575 and up to three months in jail, unless an 'aggravating factor' such as the crime being committed in a school zone, while fleeing law enforcement, or involving a minor under the age of 18. In those cases, possession is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail, and a fine no more than $1,150.
Although this reform does not mean an immediate end to legal restrictions against marijuana, the passage of HB39 is still a fantastic step in the right direction. Decriminalization efforts can often lead the way toward more substantive reforms down the line. After the hysterical 'Reefer Madness' fantasies of the prohibitionists do not come to fruition, it is easier to make the argument for full legalization of the plant.
Activists should embrace any opportunity that they have to make it more difficult for people to be locked in cages for the non-violent non-crime of marijuana possession. The end of the federal drug war is on its way whether detractors like it or not. This important reform is helping to grease the wheels on our way toward that inevitable goal!
If you live in different state, contact your state legislators and urge them to introduce a supporting bill to HB39 such as our P.E.A.C.E (Preventing Excessive Allocations for Cannabis Enforcement) Act.