Delaware Governor Jack Markell put his seal of approval on a bill earlier this week decriminalizing the possession of marijuana, making Delaware the 20th state in America to eliminate the criminal penalties associated with this offense.
On Thursday, right after the state Senate gave their final approval on House Bill 39, the governor “almost immediately” swooped in with his pen and signed it into law. Not surprisingly, all of the favorable votes on this measure came from Democratic forces; no Republican lawmakers have supported the concept of decriminalization since its inception.
The bill, which was dragged through the legislative process by Representative Helene Keeley, no longer forces people caught in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana into the criminal justice system. Instead, adult offenders will simply pay a $100 fine, a major improvement from the current statute, which considers small amounts of weed a misdemeanor and can result in several months in jail.
The new law will officially take effect in six months.
The signing of this legislation comes as no surprise. Earlier this month, Governor Markell told reporters that he had every intention of decriminalizing the possession of marijuana if House Bill 39 made it to his desk. Yesterday, his office reiterated the governor’s dedication to sensible reform.
“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.
Although Republican lawmakers claim, “we’re going to really, really regret,” passing this legislation, arguing that it will make the herb accessible to children, drug policy experts say that continuing to throw people in jail will not remedy those concerns.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Unfortunately, the decriminalization bill was written to only protect adult citizens. Anyone under the age of 21 caught in possession of marijuana can still be prosecuted under state law.
Decriminalization efforts have proven successful in many major cities across the United States. In fact, places like Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York City are now reporting fewer pot-related arrests than ever before. Not only have these measures allowed law enforcement to focus their energy on major crime, but they have also proved fiscally responsible.
Recent reports indicate that Philadelphia is on track to saving $3.75 million after decriminalizing weed in 2014. This has led governor Tom Wolf to consider spreading this policy throughout the entire state—a move that is projected to save Pennsylvania around $26 million.
With this in consideration, not only has Delaware made good by eliminating the potential for residents to be sent to jail for possessing a substance less harmful than alcohol, but they may also manage to saw away at a sizeable portion of the state’s debt.
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