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Marijuana decriminalization begins in the First State

Delaware Public Media

After six months of waiting, Delawareans 21 years or older will no longer be charged with a misdemeanor for possessing under an ounce of marijuana.

When the new law goes into effect Friday, those breaking the law will instead get a $100 fine.

Anyone underage will still be charged with a misdemeanor, but they would have a chance to expunge their record after turning 21.

State lawmakers passed the bill largely on party lines in close votes earlier this year. But many supporters say it gave too many concessions to law enforcement officials who ended up opposing the measure anyway.

For example, Zoe Patchell, co-chair of the Cannabis Bureau of Delaware, says the law only targets full-leaf marijuana.

“There’s a lot of cannabis consumers that use tinctures or extracts or hash or any of the other products that are [non flower marijuana]," said Patchell. "So that’s important because these arrests are still going to continue because of this.”

Smoking pot in public could still earn someone a misdemeanor if caught and in public includes within ten feet of any sidewalk, open window or door – even if you’re on your own property.

And Patchell says that leaves a negative label on those using the drug.

“We’re still going to get a $100 fine for possessing [marijuana]," said Patchell. "It’s still saying we’re doing something when, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with consuming cannabis.”

Patchell and her group will lobby the state legislature next year to fully legalize recreational marijuana, though it has little chance of passing.

Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South), who sponsored the decriminalization bill, says she doesn’t believe recreational marijuana will be legalized in Delaware in 2016.

Gov. Jack Markell and Attorney General Matt Denn have both said they oppose those efforts.

A 2014 University of Delaware poll found 58 percent of state residents approve of full pot legalization.

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