DOVER, Del. (Aug 8, 2019) – Last week, Delaware Governor John Carney signed a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession by minors in the state despite federal prohibition.
Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover), sponsored Senate Bill 45 (SB45) along with 16 fellow Democrats. Delaware decriminalized the possession or consumption of a “personal-use quantity” of marijuana for adults 21 or over in 2015, making it a civil violation subject to a fine. But under that law, possession of a personal-use quantity of cannabis remains a criminal offense for people under the age of 21. Enactment of SB45 expands decriminalize of personal use consumption or possession of marijuana to include individuals under 21.
Enactment of SB45 will not only loosen marijuana laws and keep minors from ending up with criminal records for the possession of a small amount of marijuana; it will also further undermine federal marijuana prohibition. As marijuana becomes more accepted and more states simply ignore the feds, the federal government is less able to enforce its unconstitutional laws.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Decriminalization, along with Delaware’s medical marijuana program, removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of cannabis in the state, but federal prohibition remains in place. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
SB45 further undermines prohibition and will make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in Delaware.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Enactment of SB45 would further ignore federal prohibition and continue the process of nullifying it in practice in Delaware.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit this year.
With 33 states including Delaware allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
Passage of SB45 demonstrates another important strategic reality. Once a legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.