Delaware Gov. Signs Law to Expunge Marijuana Possession Convictions

The state decriminalized the possession of marijuana up to one ounce in 2015.

Delaware Governor John Carney last week signed into law legislation that provides mandatory expungement eligibility to those convicted of simple cannabis possession prior to the state decriminalizing the offense.

Delaware lawmakers in 2015 decriminalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal act to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine. Those in violation are not arrested and the offense isn’t added to their criminal record.

Senate Bill 197, which took effect immediately, allows those that had been convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana before decriminalization was enacted to have the conviction removed from their criminal record.

“As a supporter of criminal justice reform, this is common sense legislation to provide equity for those previously convicted of offenses that are no longer illegal,” said Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley), who introduced the bill with House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear).

“The narrow scope of this legislation provides relief specifically to those with no other criminal convictions. This will expedite these expungements without overburdening the system. I thank my colleagues and the Governor for their overwhelming support of this measure.”

Those interested in receiving an expungement have to make an affirmative request. In return, they will receive their certified record from the State Bureau of Identification and a form to apply for a mandatory expungement. A unspecified fee will also be required.

To be eligible, the marijuana conviction must be the applicant’s only criminal conviction. State officials estimate that the legislation could impact up to 1,250 people convicted of a single marijuana crime between 1977 and 2015.

The bill clears the slate for those burdened by the lifelong stigma of a criminal conviction. Those with convictions are often denied employment, housing, loan, and education opportunities.

“Delaware has made significant strides forward in criminal justice reform in recent years, and this bill is another step in that direction,” said Rep. Longhurst. “Hundreds of Delaware residents have criminal convictions for simply possessing a small amount of marijuana before we decriminalized it. This new law will help these residents clear their records of a minor infraction and allow them to move forward with their lives.”

The legislation had bipartisan support, passing with unanimous votes in both the Senate and House.

Delaware’s Marijuana Laws

Outside of the nine states that have legalized adult use marijuana, Delaware is one of the most progressive when it comes to cannabis policy.

In addition to decriminalizing small possession of recreational marijuana, the state in 2011 also passed comprehensive medical marijuana legislation.

With a written recommendation from a physician and an identification card from the Department of Health and Social Services, patients can legally purchase up to 3 ounces of medicinal cannabis from a compassion center and possession up to 6 ounces at home.

In 2015, the State Legislature expanded the medical marijuana program to make it accessible to minors under 18. As of September 2016, qualified minors can legally use their medical cannabis while on school grounds.

Changing Marijuana Policies

Several other states – including Rhode Island, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Maryland – have passed similar expungement legislation after decriminalizing or legalization marijuana. California lawmakers recently approved a mandatory expungement bill that is currently being considered by the Governor.

Seventy-three percent of Americans support legislation “to automatically seal the records of individuals convicted of crimes related to the possession of marijuana,” according to a recent nationwide poll.

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