On Thursday, January 29, I took part in “Delaware Citizens’ Cannabis Lobby Day 2015.” The lobbying effort was carried out at Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware. The event was organized by the Cannabis Bureau of Delaware (CBD), but received support from members of Delaware NORML, East Coast Cannabis Coalition (ECCC), and several other organizations. NJ representatives included Cindy Ruggiero, head of ECCC Vanessa Maria, and myself. I ran into nearly a dozen persons I met at my first Delaware demonstration on December 5, the “Repeal Day Rally” hosted by Delaware NORML.
Lobby Day was scheduled the same day that the Decriminalization Bill was reintroduced by state representatives. The bill resembled a measure introduced the year before that cleared through the House committee, but was never brought to a vote on the floor. The bill introduced on Lobby Day proposed to make possession of an ounce of marijuana or less a civil offense (instead of a criminal offense) punishable by a fine of $100. Smoking in public would be a misdemeanor that could result in a $200 fine or a maximum of five days in prison. (WBOC 16 online article, January 30, 2015) This is similar to the Philadelphia decriminalization bill from October, which made an ounce or less punishable by a $25 fine, or a $100 fine if consumed in public. Nevertheless, Delaware’s decriminalization bill would go a long way compared to current Delaware laws that make possession of only a small amount of cannabis a crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,150 fee.
“Advocating scientific based policy for cannabis” was printed on the bottom of every nametag by CBD. We received this at the orientation meeting in the Majority Caucus Room that began at 10:15 A.M. The room was filled with over 50 persons and I sat on the floor with many others. Several talking points for dealing with representatives were laid out during orientation. First was the popular message: “marijuana is safer than alcohol.” Another point was the economic failure of the war on marijuana, which unjustly cost the state taxpayers $13,234,181 per year for nonviolent possession cases. This resulted in overfilled jails with nonviolent offenders, another point made. This led to the next problem that every state in the country suffers from: racially biased arrests of black persons, particularly young men of color. Prior to Philadelphia’s decriminalization bill, blacks were five times more likely to be arrested than whites; and in NJ, blacks are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested, despite equal usage. In conclusion, regulating and taxing marijuana would save millions of tax dollars (it was noted Colorado had $42 million in tax revenue); new industry jobs would be created; and the justice system could focus on real crime, instead of attacking nonviolent users and persons of color.
Since I was from out-of-state I did not meet with any representatives, and spent most of my time downstairs near the cafeteria with another dozen supporters. While there I spoke with one employee who was very sympathetic toward decriminalization and medical marijuana, but was hesitant about full legalization. This seemed to be the opposite view of most assemblymen, the majority refusing to support the decriminalization measure. It should not come as a surprise that the entire Republican cast refused to even meet with our delegates. (President Nixon and President Reagan are responsible for the all-out-war declared on marijuana and other drugs. They were also both elected through the Republican ticket for their denunciations against “criminals,” the new code word for “nigger” following the 1960s civil rights movement, a tactic used to win the bloc vote of the South, which transferred to the Republican Party from the Democratic Party following the Democratic Party’s support of civil rights measures beginning in 1964. Don’t forget that Reagan opposed every civil rights measure in the 1960s, won the California governor election in 1966 based off “white backlash” votes, and still accused Martin Luther King of being a communist in the 1980s). Several Democrats did support the decriminalization bill, however, which made lobbying worthwhile.
The passage of the current decriminalization bill would be a major victory for the marijuana movement in Delaware. It would also apply pressure on NJ to move toward decriminalization, since several neighboring states already have some type of decriminalization program set up. Either way the lobbying effort was highly beneficial. Vanessa and I began discussing a possible lobbying day in NJ sometime in the future. We also made strong connections with numerous activists we met that day, most of whom pledged to attend our mass demonstrations in the future. It seems the longer politicians take to fully legalize marijuana, the larger and more dramatic our protests will become.