This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
With the signature of Gov. Jack Markell (D) Thursday night on House Bill 39, Delaware becomes the 20th state to either decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana or make it legal for adults.
[image:1 align:left]Markell, who had earlier indicated support for such legislation, signed the bill the same day in passed the state Senate. It had passed the House earlier this month. In both chambers, it passed without a single Republican vote.
"The governor remains committed to reducing the number of people entering the criminal justice system and refocusing resources where they are needed most," a Markell spokeswoman said in a prepared statement.
The new law, which goes into effect in six months, removes the criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce by an adult, replacing them with a civil infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine. For those between 18 and 21, a first offense would be a civil infraction, while any more would be misdemeanors. For people under 18, possession would remain a misdemeanor.
Public use would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fine and up to five days in jail. That includes moving vehicles, public areas, and outdoors on private property within 10 feet of street, sidewalk, or any other areas generally accessible to the public.
"We think this gives some protection to young people," said bill sponsor and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Margaret Rose Henry. "We don't want to affect financial aid, we don't want to affect housing, we don't want to affect jobs... We just want people to be responsible, and this has some consequences if you're not responsible. People should do this in their own homes... It should not be done in cars. It should be done in the privacy of your own home."
"We commend Gov. Markell and the Delaware legislature for moving the state forward and leaving its antiquated marijuana possession law behind," said Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has been working Dover for years. "Adults in Delaware will no longer be branded as criminals simply for consuming a substance that is undeniably less harmful than alcohol. Law enforcement officials will be able to spend more time addressing serious crimes instead of arresting and prosecuting adults for simple marijuana possession."
Illinois could be next. A decriminalization bill there has already passed out of the legislature and is on the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).
Chronicle AM: Denver Public Pot Use Effort, House GOP Eases Up on Needle Exchange Ban, More (6/18/05)
We're heavy on the marijuana news today, but there's also good news from Congress on needle exchange, and Peru's Shining Path wins a second bad-news designation from the US government.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Delaware Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization. The state Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday voted 4-2 to approve House Bill 39, which would replace criminal penalties and possible jail time for marijuana possession with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. The committee chair, Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington), sponsored the bill. It has already passed the House, and Gov. Jack Markell (D) has said he is "hopeful" Delaware will decriminalize.
New Poll Has Strong New Jersey Majority for Legalization. A new Rutgers-Eagleton poll has support for legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana at 58% among Garden State residents. Click on the link for demographics and more detail.
Ohio Secretary of State Attacks ResponsibleOhio Signature-Gathering. Secretary of State John Hustad (R) said Wednesday that signature-gatherers hired by ResponsibleOhio may be responsible for fraud. He cited several irregularities, including registrants with non-existent addresses, signatures that are illegible or don't match the signature on file for the applicant in the voter's existing registration record, and multiple applications submitted on the same day for a single applicant at different locations. ResponsibleOhio denied those charges, saying it had fully complied with state election laws and that it had met earlier with Hustad, and he didn't bring up any problems with their signature-gathering. The group has gathered more than 500,000 signatures; it needs 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Another Ohio Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. Two initiative campaigns have already bowed out this year, a third (ResponsibleOhio) appears poised to qualify for the ballot (but see item above), and now a fourth has been approved for signature-gathering. The latest is the Ohio Cannabis Control Amendment, proposed by Ohioans to End Prohibition. The group has only two weeks to qualify for this year's November ballot, but could continue to gather signatures beyond the July 1 deadline to try to get on next year's ballot. The group's web address -- www.legalizeohio2016.org -- suggest that next year is its real target.
Washington State Pot Workers Join UFCW. In a first for Washington, employees at the Cannabis Club Collective in Tacoma have voted unanimously to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). This is the first union contract in the state's marijuana industry. The UFCW has organized medical marijuana workers in California.
Denver Activists Plan Local Initiative to Allow Limited Public Use. Some of the same people who led the statewide campaign to legalize marijuana in 2012 are now gearing up a plan to allow public use. They're talking about an initiative that would allow indoor vaping and outdoor smoking at bars and other spaces that want to do so. A public hearing on the proposal with Denver officials is going on right now.
Congressional Republicans Easing Opposition to Needle Exchange. Faced with rising heroin use in their home states and attendant public health implications from it, House Republicans are now easing their opposition to federal funding for needle exchange programs. The health spending bill now in the House would still bar federal funding to buy needles or syringes, but would allow federal block grant funds to states and localities to be used for the other costs of operating exchanges.
US Designates Peru's Shining Path as Narcotic "Kingpins." The remnants of the Maoist guerrilla group that plunged Peru into bloody civil war in the 1980s has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997, but this month, the US Treasury Department designated Shining Path as a significant foreign drug trafficking organization. Shining Path is accused of being involved in cocaine trafficking in south central Peru.