Delawareans could legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana for “personal use” under proposed legislation backed by Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly.
The legislation would set the legal age for marijuana possession at 21 and would only impose a $100 civil fine on anyone found consuming marijuana in a public place, including streets, parks and sidewalks.
Marijuana possession is currently prosecuted as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,150.
Rep. Helene Keeley, a Wilmington Democrat, is sponsoring the legislation. It has 14 other Democratic co-sponsors. No Republicans were listed as sponsors as of Wednesday. Keeley, who was unavailable for comment on Thursday morning, is circulating the bill for additional support in Dover with just more than a month left in the current legislative session.
A spokesman for Gov. Jack Markell said in April the governor was “willing to discuss” changes to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Markell, who signed legislation in 2011 legalizing marijuana for medical purposes but delayed the program under threats from the federal government, has said he would not support a move toward full legalization. The state recently took bids from seven companies to operate its first medical marijuana dispensary.
“The governor is willing to discuss changing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana from jail sentences to just fines, but he would not support full legalization at this time without further studies and evidence of its consequences,” said Jonathon Dworkin, a spokesman for Markell.
Markell’s statement came after a March poll showed more than two-thirds of Delawareans supported the removal of criminal penalties for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. The poll was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group, and conducted by Public Policy Polling.
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Contact Jonathan Starkey at (302) 983-6756, at [email protected] or on Twitter @jwstarkey.
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