A measure to legalize marijuana was not passed the last legislative session, but a bill paving the way for industrial hemp and another bill allowing for the expungement of marijuana-related convictions were. Gov. John Carney has recently signed them both into law.
During a two-day, bill-signing extravaganza, Aug. 28 and Aug. 29, Carney signed 29 pieces of legislation into law, and the hemp farming and marijuana expungement bills were among them.
The Delaware Industrial Hemp Farming bill, Senate Bill 266, permits the Delaware Department of Agriculture to classify hemp as a grain and gives farmers the ability to immediately start cultivating the crop once the federal government passes the 2018 Farm Bill. Wording in the federal bill removes the ban on the production of industrial hemp.
In a prepared statement Aug. 28, Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse said Delaware farmers will be one step closer to a new crop to diversify their farming operations.
All three Cape Region legislators – Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzopf, D-Rehoboth, Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton/Lewes, and Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes –voted in favor of the bill.
Schwartzkopf said Aug. 30 he hadn’t spoken with any Sussex County farmers himself, but he said he’s heard there’s a lot of interest. The legislators looked at this bill as a farming bill, he said.
In an email Aug. 30, Lopez said he was pleased to support this forward-thinking piece of bipartisan legislation.
“The General Assembly spent a great deal of time this last session focusing on ways in which assets grown and made in state could be leveraged to the fullest extent for the betterment of all,” he said.
Under Senate Bill 197, individuals are eligible for expungement of the possession, use or consumption of marijuana prior to Delaware’s decriminalization of these offenses in 2015.
Schwartzkopf, Smyk and Lopez all voted in favor of the bill.
Schwartzkopf said he voted in favor of the bill because marijuana has been decriminalized and people shouldn’t have to continue to have these charges on their record. Lopez declined to comment on this bill, and Smyk could not be reached for comment on either.
According to a press release announcing the Aug. 29 signing, to be eligible, the marijuana conviction must be the applicant’s only criminal conviction.
In order to receive an expungement, individuals have to make an affirmative request. Once they obtain their certified record from the State Bureau of Identification, the individual will receive a form to fill out to apply for expungement. A fee is required as well.
According to the Office of Defense Services, up to 700 Delawareans can take advantage of this new law.