To Smoke or Not to Smoke: Cannabis Legality in Delaware

Cannabis has a long and complex history in the United States, and Delaware is no exception. The state has passed a series of laws over the years to regulate the possession, sale, and use of cannabis, reflecting changing attitudes towards the drug and broader trends in drug policy. 

From the state's early efforts to criminalize marijuana in the 1920s to the more recent legalization of medical cannabis, Delaware's cannabis laws have played an important role in shaping the state's drug policy and culture. In this blog, we'll explore the history of cannabis legislation in Delaware, taking a closer look at the key laws, debates, and trends that have shaped the state's approach to this controversial drug.

20th Century Criminalization

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The Delaware Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act was a piece of legislation passed by the state of Delaware in 1923. This law was designed to regulate the possession, sale, and use of certain drugs, including cannabis (also known as marijuana) in the state.

Under the act, it became illegal to possess, sell, or use cannabis for any purpose in Delaware. The legislation classified cannabis as a narcotic drug, and it established penalties for violating the law, including fines and imprisonment.

The Delaware Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act was part of a larger national trend of drug prohibition in the United States in the early 20th century. Many states passed similar laws during this time period, as part of a broader effort to combat drug abuse and addiction.

Today, Delaware's drug laws have evolved to reflect changing attitudes towards cannabis and other drugs. 

Back to the Future

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After the passing of the Drug Act in 1923, Delaware’s stance on cannabis would not make great leaps and bounds until the 2010s. The Delaware Medical Marijuana Act, also known as Senate Bill 17, was signed into law by Delaware Governor Jack Markell on May 13, 2011. This made Delaware the 16th state in the United States to legalize medical marijuana.

The Delaware Medical Marijuana Act allows patients who have been diagnosed with qualifying medical conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, or glaucoma, to obtain a recommendation from a registered physician and apply for a Medical Marijuana Card from the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. The law also establishes a state-regulated dispensary system for the cultivation, processing, and distribution of medical marijuana to qualified patients.

The passage of the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act was seen as a victory for patients and advocates who had been pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana in Delaware for many years. The law provided legal protection for patients who were using marijuana for medical purposes, and also created a system for safe and regulated access to medical marijuana.

Since the passage of the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act, the state has continued to expand its medical marijuana program, with the addition of new qualifying conditions and the opening of additional dispensaries. As of today, there are six licensed dispensaries in Delaware, and more than 10,000 registered medical marijuana patients.

Decade of Decriminalization


Delaware decriminalized cannabis on December 18, 2015, when Governor Jack Markell signed House Bill 39 into law after it passed the General Assembly. The law reduced the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it a civil offense rather than a criminal offense.

Under the new law, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by a person who is 21 or older is punishable by a civil fine of $100, lowered from $575 previously. Possession of marijuana paraphernalia has also seen a reduced penalty from misdemeanor to civil offense and is now subject to a fine of $100.


A short time later in 2019, the new governor John Carney signed Senate Bill 45. This bill extended the decriminalization of cannabis possession to those under the age of 21.

Pandemic Delivery Services

The pandemic lended a hand in cannabis delivery legislation as the state called a state of emergency. Due to the unique circumstances regulators began to allow for the delivery of cannabis products to qualified medical cannabis patients and caregivers. Due to the success of the pandemic home delivery regulators decided to make regulated home delivery a permanent part of the cannabis industry in Delaware.

The Push for Recreational Use

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There have been several attempts to legalize recreational cannabis use in the state of Delaware, however, none have been successful to date. The most recent attempts at recreational use have taken place in the last few years. 

In 2022, Rep. Ed Osienski introduced a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana and regulate the subsequent industry. However, it did not gain enough support from Democrats and received no support from the Republicans in the legislature.

Also in 2022, the General Assembly passed a bill that would legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis. The bill did not make it past the governor’s desk though as he shot it down with a veto.

January of 2023 saw yet another attempt to pass recreational cannabis use. Rep. Osienski again introduced legislation, but with a different strategy. This time the legislation was split into two bills; one that would legalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older and another that would regulate and tax cannabis sales for adults in Delaware. The bills are currently waiting to reach the House floor to be voted on, but their main challenge awaits further down the line. Given the veto of previous cannabis legislation by the Governor of Delaware, it is to be seen if the bills will be signed into law once they reach his desk.

What Does the Future Hold?

Delaware will be a state to watch in the upcoming months as the legislation continues to work towards legalizing recreational cannabis use and possession in the state.

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