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Marijuana possession expungement bill becomes law

A bill that aims to give those charged with marijuana possession before it was decriminalized a second chance became law last week.

Simple possession of marijuana was decriminalized in Delaware nearly three years ago.

Gov. Carney signed a bill Wednesday allowing those charged with marijuana possession as a criminal offense prior to 2015 to have their criminal records expunged— or cleared.

State Sen. Greg Lavelle sponsored the legislation along with State Rep. Valerie Longhurst.

Lavelle says expungement helps people move on with their lives.

“On that question, ‘have you been arrested and convicted,’ that’s on a form for an employment opportunity, you get to say no,” he said. “It’s gone, it’s not part of your record anymore, and it really is that simple.”

He says prior to the law, those with criminal marijuana possession records could apply for pardon, and then might receive discretionary expungement. Under the new law, expungement will be faster and guaranteed.

Lavelle says five to seven hundred people in Delaware are eligible for expungement.

He notes the law’s application is limited to those whose only criminal offense was simple marijuana possession.

“If you’re a violent criminal, and often people may have multiple charges including possession of marijuana, that wasn’t our intent. It was to bring parity with the decriminalization law,” he said.

He says those seeking expungement under the new law still need to fill out forms and pay an administrative fee, but the process will be faster and more certain that it was before.

He says officials are still ironing out an outreach plan to those eligible for expungement.

Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in Delaware is now a civil violation resulting in a $100 fine. Prior to the change, simple possession was a criminal offense and could result in jail time, a much higher fine, or both.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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