Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Newark's marijuana rules now mirror state law

Delaware Public Media

  Last week, Newark’s City Council members approved rules related to decriminalizing possession of marijuana.


Previously, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana could bring a six month jail sentence and fine over $1,000.  Now, it’s a $100 fine.  


Last year, the state moved to decriminalize marijuana and Newark mayor Polly Sierer says City Council’s action was intended to mirror that legislation. Newark will take over processing violations within city limits. Alderman's Court will handle that instead state court, with the city keeping fines collected.


“Having the ability to have folks pay fines and appeal a potential case in our Alderman’s Court is important because it saves taxpayer money, and our officers don't have to go to county courts to appeal cases," Sierer said.


Paul Armentano, Deputy Director for marijuana advocacy group NORML, says a city decriminalizing marijuana after the state is rare.


He says it’s more typical for municipalities like Tampa or New Orleans,  which both decriminalized marijuana last week, to lead the way.


“Rather than waiting for change at the state level, we see local lawmakers at the municipal level making changes that govern marijuana policy within their own city limits," Armantano said.


To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized physician authorized use of marijuana, 15 states including Delaware plus the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana, and 4 states have legalized adult possession, production and sale of marijuana for retail  purposes. And Armentano expects others to follow suit.


Armentano adds that decriminalization isn’t new. The original policy was first recommended by President Nixon’s Shafer commission in 1972. Following that recommendation, states beginning with Oregon in 1973 began amending marijuana classification and penalties.  


“We are seeing legislators at both at the state and the local level in recent months moving in this direction. There is a recognition from politicians as well as the public that minor marijuana offenders should not be saddled with a criminal record,” Armantano said.

All states in New England, with the exception of New Hampshire, have decriminalized the use of marijuana.

Armentano says the fines vary state to state.

“A $100 fine is fairly middle of the road. There are cities like Milwaukee that have far lower fines – around $25 – and there are some jurisdictions that impose a greater fine,”  Armantano said.

He also said that one ounce is a typical amount to accompany civil fines. Some states set the threshold at half an ounce, with states like Ohio setting the threshold at three ounces.

Sierer expects the rules to save significant time and money for residents, police officers and the city of Newark.

“It’s certainly a customer service opportunity for folks who are faced with having to address situations where they were arrested for the marijuana law, and also saves staff time and taxpayer money," Sierer said.

But Newark City Solicitor Bruce Herron notes there’s no way just yet to measure how much cost savings the change will produce, or how much money Newark is expected to collect in future marijuana civil citations.


Related Content