A new poll conducted by the University of Delaware finds 56% support for legalizing marijuana, with just 39% opposed. Earlier this year, Rep. Helene Keeley, Sen. Bryan Townsend, and Sen. Margaret Rose Henry sponsored legislation to reduce the penalty for simple possession of marijuana from a criminal charge to a civil fine. This is a strong step in the right direction.
Under current Delaware law, possessing even a small amount of marijuana is a criminal offense, carrying up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,150. And the effects of a conviction don’t stop there. A criminal record can make it difficult to find a job, obtain educational opportunities, or even find adequate housing.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have replaced the threat of jail for possession of marijuana with a fine. If you are a Delaware resident, ask your state representative and senator to make the same modest reform, and then ask your fellow Delawareans to call for this long overdue reform, too.
Today, Gov. Jack Markell signed SB 17 into law, making it legal for Delaware residents with certain serious medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The bill had bipartisan sponsors and support in the legislature. This makes Delaware the 16th state, along with the District of Columbia, to pass an effective medical marijuana law.
The law goes into effect on July 1 and will permit people diagnosed with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, decompensated cirrhosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), agitation of Alzheimer's disease, PTSD, intractable nausea, severe seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, wasting syndrome, and severe debilitating pain that has not responded to other treatments or for which other treatments produced serious side effects to possess up to six ounces of marijuana without fear of arrest. Qualified patients will not be able to cultivate their own medicine, but they will be able to obtain medical marijuana from state-licensed compassion centers regulated by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, which will also issue medical marijuana ID cards to patients who receive a recommendation from their doctor. Public use of marijuana and driving under the influence are prohibited.
“There are so many people in Delaware who are suffering unimaginable pain that this will help, and we want to be able to do what we can to provide much-needed relief for those citizens,” said Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, who sponsored the legislation. “I am very grateful that so many of my colleagues were able to look past the myths surrounding marijuana and into the eyes and hearts of those who were crying out for our help. Needless to say, I am profoundly grateful to Gov. Markell for his support of this important legislation.”
“Today is an amazing victory for seriously ill Delaware patients, who have been waiting a very long time for the chance to use the medicine they need without fear,” said Noah Mamber, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, who lobbied and mobilized patients, professionals, and grassroots activists in support of the bill. “SB17 is the most comprehensive, tightly-written medical marijuana bill in the country, and with this vote, the Delaware Legislature proved that compassion is not a red or a blue issue. It’s a human issue.”
Chris McNeely, a Dagsboro National Guard veteran and chronic pain patient with severe wasting syndrome, said, “Until this law was passed, I was afraid to use medical marijuana, even though it helped me in the past, because if I was arrested and put in jail, they could not properly care for me, and I could actually die. I am so happy I will be able to get legal relief soon.”
With this victory, we are well on our way to accomplishing MPP's goal of 27 medical marijuana states by 2014. Keep up the good work, everybody!