The legalization of marijuana in Delaware will mean the state’s police agencies stop ticketing people for having it, but they’ll continue to pull people over for appearing to be under the influence.
Police already had stopped charging people with criminal possession for small amounts of pot in 2019, when Attorney General Kathy Jennings said she would no longer prosecute for misdemeanor possession of marijuana or paraphernalia.
Now, agencies will stop giving out the civil citations which had replaced the criminal charges.
In the meantime, all eyes will be on the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, charged with writing the regulations under which Delaware plans to set up a taxable, regulated industry to grow and sell marijuana.
It requires the appointment of a marijuana commissioner and three members of an appeals commission within 90 days of the bill becoming law.
After House Bill 2 officially became law, the division posted on its Facebook page that it will be working with the Department of Health and Social Services to implement the two bills and that they’ll hire new staff to help with enforcement.
Related Story: Marijuana legal in Delaware Sunday; Carney won’t sign, veto
Arshon Howard, public information officer for the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which includes the Division of Alcohol, did not elaborate further. Howard said no schedules for public meetings or proceedings have been published.
House Bill 1, which legalizes personal possession of marijuana for those 21 years or older, became law on April 22. House Bill 2, which sets up a framework to tax the newly legalized marijuana, became law on April 26, after Carney’s decision not to veto or sign either.
The commissioners will have 12 meetings a year where they will work on the rules for marijuana cultivation in Delaware and who will be given any of the 132 licenses that are available for testing, selling, growing, and manufacturing marijuana.
The licenses will include 30 for large growing facilities, 30 for smaller growing facilities, 30 for manufacturing marijuana products, 30 for retail stores and five for testing facilities.
About half of each license is a social equity license which is given at a discount to companies that are more than half owned by someone who lives in a disproportionately impacted area, was convicted of a marijuana related offense, or is married to someone convicted of a marijuana related offense.
While the license can be for people convicted of marijuana related offenses, the bill exempts people who delivered marijuana to a minor or were caught with 5000 grams or more of marijuana.
While there are a limited number of licenses initially, after two years, the commissioner can give out more licenses if more stores or facilities are needed or if they haven’t given out enough of any specific type of license.
License applications will be available in May 2024.
Mat Marshall, a public information officer with the Delaware Department of Justice, said that the bills becoming law won’t have much of an impact on the department.
“Where it had previously been illegal, it’s now legal,” he said. “That just happens to be an area that the DOJ really wasn’t that active to begin with in the sense of prosecuting cases. So I don’t think you’re … going to see any significant change.”
Marshall said the civil citations officers had been giving out since 2019 and alternative methods of prosecution aren’t needed now.
“So it could have impact for people with certain criminal records,” he said. “It certainly can and will have impact for people who use marijuana in a fashion that is now legal. It’s just that for DOJ purposes, it wasn’t really a … significant part of what we were prosecuting to begin with. And so we don’t expect that there really will be any day to day changes in our operations over here.”
Marshall said he had no way of predicting how legalization will impact the arrest rates for DUIs or those under 21 consuming marijuana.
“Our focus from an enforcement perspective is on making sure that the roads remain safe and the kids remain safe,” Marshall said. “But I can’t sit here and tell you that we anticipate X percentage increase or decrease in this behavior or that. We just want to make sure that people are safe.”
Over the past several years, Delaware has passed laws that reduced penalties for marijuana convictions and allowed for records to be expunged.
House Bill 59, passed in 2015, decriminalized possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use and made it a civil penalty rather than a criminal one.
Senate Bill 197, passed in 2018, lets people expunge their record if they were convicted of marijuana possession before it was decriminalized.
Senate Bill 112, passed in 2021, allows all misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions to be eligible for mandatory expungement.
Marshall said that because enforcement will be handled by the Division of Alcohol, the DOJ will not spend extra resources to address enforcement that would arise from passing House Bill 2.
Jason Hatchell, public information officer for the Delaware State Police, said its officers will still pull people over for driving under the influence of marijuana, just like with alcohol.
Tracey Duffy, public information officer with the New Castle County Police Department, said she couldn’t comment on any changes for her agency until it had a chance to review the new law or update policies.
New Castle police had been giving civil citations for personal possession of six grams or less of marijuana.
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