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Delaware Governor Wastes No Time, Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Into Law

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana Thursday night, making Delaware the twentieth state to end jail time for possession of small amounts of the drug.

Almost as soon as the Senate passed the bill by a 12-9 vote that same evening, Markell jumped on the opportunity to sign it into law. There was little uncertainty as to Markell’s views, since in March, he wrote a letter to the editor at The New York Times stating that he is “hopeful that [his] state will decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

The legislation was first forwarded by Democratic Rep. Helene Keeley in the House earlier this month, where it received no support from the GOP. After it passed, Democratic Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, sponsored the bill in the Senate.

“We commend Gov. Markell and the Delaware Legislature for moving the state forward and leaving its antiquated marijuana possession law behind,” Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “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.”

The law doesn’t come in to play overnight. Rather, it takes effect in six months.

Previously, marijuana possession of up to an ounce counted as a misdemeanor. The punishment? Users could be hit with a $575 fine and three months in jail. There are still limits under the new law. First, using marijuana in a moving vehicle is still a misdemeanor, as is using in public areas.

survey conducted by the Marijuana Policy Project in March 2014 found support from 68 percent of voters for decriminalizing marijuana and making it a civil, rather than criminal offense, accompanied with a fine up to $100 dollars. Just 26 percent of voters in Delaware disagreed. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

The District of Columbia and 20 other states, now including Delaware, have decriminalized marijuana. Four of those states have legalized the drug.

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