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.
The Senate sends a message to the DEA, a new study deflates fears of medical marijuana leading to increased teen pot-smoking, California continues to try to regulate its medical marijuana free-for-all, and more.
Last Thursday, a Senate committee voted to keep the DEA out of medical marijuana states. Just a week earlier, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Last Thursday, a similar message came from the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Click on the link for more details and reaction.
On Tuesday, a study found that medical marijuana doesn't lead to increased youth use. A study published in the British medical journal The Lancet finds that allowing for the legal use of medical marijuana has not led to an increase in the number of teens using it in the US. The study relied on 24 years' worth of data from the Monitoring the Future surveys and found that while youth use levels were higher in some medical marijuana states, those higher levels of use had preceded the legalization of medical marijuana.
Last Wednesday, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act won a committee vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 258, would bar health providers from denying organ transplants to people solely because they are medical marijuana patients. It has already passed the Assembly, and was approved by the Senate Health Committee. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.
On Monday, members of a Santa Ana dispensary filed a lawsuit against local elected officials and police. The suit comes in the wake of a highly-publicized raid on the dispensary in which police were caught smashing surveillance cameras (oops, they missed one), making crude remarks about patients, and helping themselves to samples of the edibles. But the lawsuit alleges deeper problems, including collusion between Mayor Pulido, the police, and other elected officials to rig the dispensary permit system and harass unpermitted dispensaries.
On Monday, the state Supreme Court ruled that employers can fire medical marijuana patients for off-duty use. The Court today affirmed lower court decisions allowing employers to fire employees for marijuana use while off-duty. The decision hinged on the state's lawful off-duty activities statute. The Court held that in order for the off-duty conduct to be considered "lawful," it must be legal under both state and federal law. The unanimous decision was not a surprise to advocates working to reform marijuana law and policy in Colorado. The case is Coats v. Dish Network. Coats is a quadriplegic who worked in customer service for Dish, but was fired after a random drug test turned up marijuana metabolites.
Last Thursday, the legislature approved a youth CBD cannabis oil bill. The state Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 90, which would allow children with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil. The bill, also known as Rylie's Law after 9-year-old Rylie Maedler, who suffers from severe seizures, already passed the House and now heads to the governor's desk.
On Monday, the state unveiled its online registry for CBD cannabis oil patients. The Department of Public Health today went live with its online registry for patients authorized to use low-THC CBD cannabis oil. Also, the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis met for the first time.
Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana initiative was filed. A state activist has filed the explanation for a medical marijuana initiative with the state attorney general's office. Once it is reviewed and approved, proponents will then have 180 days to come up with 13, 871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Medical marijuana initiatives have twice been defeated in the state. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
Marijuana's going to be legal in Oregon next month, and a new website will help explain things, the focus is on Gov. Cuomo now that an emergency access medical marijuana has passed the New York legislature, Vermont's top jailer comes out for decriminalization of drugs, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
With Legalization Looming, Oregon Regulators Launch Informational Website. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has launched an educational website laying out what is and isn't allowed under the state's marijuana legalization law, which is set to go into effect July 1. Check it out at the link.
New York Early Access Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would allow early access to medical marijuana passed the Senate Monday night after already being approved in the Assembly. The move comes as a year has gone by since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Compassionate Use Act into law, but not one patient has yet to be able to legally obtain any. This bill would provide expedited access to seriously ill patients.
Kentucky Legislators Ponder How to Spend $10 Million to Fight Heroin. Recently passed legislation allocated $10 million to fight heroin, and now legislators are trying to figure out where to put that money. Justice Secretary Michael Brown recommended spending it on jail treatment programs, mental health centers, transitional care for pregnant drug-using women, and faster prosecutions against heroin dealers. It will be up to the legislature to agree or not.
Vermont Corrections Commissioner Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito has said that drug possession should be decriminalized and the war on drugs declared a failure. "Possession of drugs for personal utilization -- if somebody is not hurting anyone [else], that should not be a criminal justice matter," Pallito said. "I don't think anybody can say that putting somebody with an addiction problem through the corrections system is a good idea. We should go to the Portugal model, which is to deal with the addiction and not spend the money on the criminal justice system," Pallito said. "We spend so much money on corrections that could be done differently. The only way to do it is spend less on corrections and more on treatment." There's much more at the link.
Putin Opposes Drug Legalization. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he opposed drug legalization. "Of course, we must take into consideration in our current work that a range of governments have begun a true campaign on the legalization of certain types of narcotics, or so-called recreational drugs. We, of course, are against such approaches and this point of view needs to be more actively moved forward on all international platforms," Putin said during a government council meeting.