This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We have finally crossed the half-way point. The states featured going forward generally have mixed laws when it comes to cannabis. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. Today we turn to number 17: Delaware.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. In 2015, Delaware decriminalized the possession of marijuana. A person in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana faces a $100 fine without incarceration. Delaware uses a list of aggravating factors that can result in more stringent penalties. For example, if a person commits the crime in a school zone, or a park, the penalties ramp up. The following list illustrates the potential prison sentence a person faces without the presence of an aggravating factor based on the amount of marijuana a person possesses:
- Between 1 ounce and 175 grams earns up to 3 months incarceration and a $575 fine (all other fines for possession are discretionary).
- 175-1,500 grams earns up to 3 years incarceration.
- 1,500-3,000 grams earns up to 5 years incarceration.
- 3,000-4,000 grams earns up to 8 years incarceration.
- 4,000-5,000 grams earns up to 15 years incarceration.
- Over 5,000 grams earns 2-25 years incarceration.
Delaware sanctions the distribution, manufacture, or sale of marijuana similarily, with penalties increasing with the presence of aggravating factors. The penalties for distribution, manufacture, or sale of marijuana depend on the amount present:
- Less than 1,500 grams earns up to 8 years incarceration.
- 1,500-4,000 grams earns up to 15 years incarceration.
- Over 4,000 grams earns 2-25 years incarceration.
Medical Marijuana. In 2011, the state enacted the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act. Patients can legally obtain medical cannabis after a physician certifies in writing that the patient suffers from a qualfiying condition and that marijuana may help alleviate the symptoms. Patients must also apply to the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. The Department may then issue an ID card to the patient.
Qualifying medical conditions include cancer, HIV/AIDS, decompensated cirrhosis, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,; Alzheimer’s disease, or PTSD. A medical condition that produces wasting syndrome, intractable nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or severe debilitating pain may also warrant medical marijuana use.
Patients in Delaware are not able to grow their own medicine and must turn to dispensaries. Compassion centers are non-profit businesses that cultivate marijuana and provide it to patients. The first Delaware cannabis dispensary did not open until 2015, four years after legalization. Currently, Delaware has only one operational compassion center, but, its cannabis industry is slowly expanding, with others applying to open compassion centers to compete with the single entity currently operating.
Bottomline. Delaware proudly refers to itself as the first state because it was the first colony to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Though it is progressive with its cannabis laws, it is far from being the first state in cannabis. Delaware’s criminal laws could certainly use some improvement and when it comes to medical marijuana, one dispensary is not enough, even for a small state like Delaware. Yet overall Delaware is on a good trajectory toward cannabis liberalization.