Skip to main content
Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate Votes To Legalize Adult Possession Of Marijuana

May 12, 2022

DOVER – The Delaware Senate on Thursday passed legislation to remove penalties for the adult possession of small amounts of marijuana, paving the way for legal adult recreational marijuana.

“This is a historic day for Delawareans, who overwhelmingly supported the legalization of marijuana,” said Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor. “I want to thank the many advocates who have worked so hard on this issue for many years, far longer frankly than should have been necessary. I also want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for acting quickly once a bill reached our chamber to end 50 years of prohibition and criminalization that historically has been unjustly and inequitably applied to people of color. My sincere hope is that this vote today also represents another major step toward replacing the illegal marijuana market with a thriving industry that will create good-paying jobs for the residents of our state.”

Passed last week by three-fifths vote in the Delaware House of Representatives, House Bill 371 would remove all penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for anyone older than 21 years of age. Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana and public consumption would remain unclassified misdemeanors.

Under current state law, the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana by a person 21 years of age and older carries a civil penalty of $100. That provision would be eliminated under HB 371. Possession, use or consumption of recreational marijuana by anyone under 21 would still result in a civil penalty.

“Today is the result of years of hard work, advocacy, dedication, and most of all, patience. Thousands of residents know that the prohibition against marijuana is an outdated policy that needs to be changed. During this very involved process, we have heard from numerous members of the public – advocates, veterans, retired law enforcement officers, educators and even faith leaders – who have overwhelmingly voiced support for legalizing adult recreational marijuana,” said Rep. Ed Osienski, the prime sponsor of HB 371. “I’m grateful to my colleagues on both sides of the Legislative Hall for passing this bill, and I look forward to continuing this process until Delaware is poised to establish a new, legal industry in our state.”

HB 371 is part of a two-pronged effort to legalize and regulate adult recreational marijuana in Delaware. Previous attempts to pass one bill legalizing adult recreational marijuana and regulating the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana have fallen short in the House of Representatives, prompting the sponsors to separate the main components of the effort into two bills.

Regulating a legal cannabis industry would require a three-fifths majority vote in each chamber. Previous proposals to legalize and regulate marijuana have fallen short. However, because HB 371 does not have any taxation or revenue aspect, the legislation only requires a simple majority in both chambers.

Companion legislation, House Bill 372, cleared the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and could be acted upon in the House in the coming weeks. HB 372 would create a legal framework to regulate the cultivation, sale, and possession of marijuana, and provide opportunities for small businesses to be licensed. HB 372 would require a 3/5 vote in each chamber.

Neither bill would not change existing state law regarding driving under the influence of an illicit or recreational drug. The legislation also would not allow individuals to grow their own plants. Public consumption of marijuana would still not be permitted.

Employer prohibitions against the consumption of cannabis also largely would not change. Employers would be permitted to drug test workers for marijuana to ensure any zero-tolerance policies are being followed. They also would be able to discipline workers for being under the influence at work, as well as prohibit the consumption of marijuana at work.

Currently, recreational marijuana use is permitted in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Nearby states New Jersey, Virginia and New York have all legalized adult recreational cannabis.

Public support for the legalization of adult-use cannabis has long been clear. A University of Delaware poll in 2018 indicated that 61 percent of Delaware voters support legalizing marijuana. Support for legalization has also reached 68 percent nationally, according to a November 2021 Gallup poll.

HB 371 now heads to Governor John Carney for his signature.