Del. House Committee Releases Marijuana Decriminalization Bill - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. House Committee Releases Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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DOVER, Del. (AP/WBOC) - A bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana has cleared a Delaware legislative panel and is headed to the House floor for a vote.

House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee members voted 5-to-4 Wednesday to release the bill after its chief sponsor said she would make several revisions to address concerns of police officials.

Law enforcement groups, including the Delaware State Police, nevertheless remain opposed to the bill.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South), would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine with no possibility of jail. Under current Delaware law, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $575 fine and up to three months in jail.

"This is a modest, commonsense policy change that is long overdue in Delaware," Rep. Keeley said. "Simply possessing a small amount of marijuana does not warrant jail time and the other serious consequences of a criminal conviction. The punishment should fit the crime, not cause more harm than the crime."

Smoking marijuana in an area accessible to the public or in a moving vehicle would be a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $200 and imprisonment of up to five days.

"Drug dealers are saying 'bring it on, pass the bill,'" said Delaware State Police Sgt. Lance Skinner

In a letter to the editor of the The New York Times published in March, Gov. Jack Markell said he is "hopeful that his state will decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana."  Advocates testified Wednesday that Delawareans should not face a criminal record for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

"Criminalizing people for marijuana possession is neither reasonable nor popular," said Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "People should not be put in jail or saddled with a criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol. Most voters agree, the governor agrees, and hopefully most House members will agree, too."

According to a recent poll, more than two-thirds of Delaware voters (68%) support removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession and making it a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time, according to a statewide survey conducted in March by Public Policy Polling. Only 26% said they were opposed.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws removing the threat of jail time for possession of marijuana, including Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, where voters have approved measures making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.
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