Cannabis legalization advocates aim to break down stigma

Two women sat with a handful of others in the South Coastal Library on Monday, April 30, listening to pro-cannabis-legalization activists, and their perspectives could not be more different.

Both listened intently to the facts and figures presented by Zoë Patchell, president and board chair of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network.

The woman who spoke first seemed to be the only person in the room who was not pro-cannabis. She said she has neighbors who use cannabis, which is the scientific name for the marijuana plant.

“They are lazy. They don’t want to do anything. They stay stoned all the time,” she said.

The other woman was Terri Lawson of Frankford. Lawson told the group that her first exposure to cannabis came about because her 37-year-old daughter uses medical marijuana to ease the pain caused by Stage 4 cancer.

Patchell, also 37, spoke to both women with equal enthusiasm. For the first woman, she pointed to herself as an example of a more “typical” cannabis user.

“One of the things I like to do is break down the stigma,” Patchell said. “I’m a cannabis consumer, and I’m a good person. I am a productive member of society,” she said. A community organizer for almost 10 years, Patchell said, “I work every day to make this world a better place. We’re very busy,” Patchell, a paralegal for a Dover law firm, said of herself and other cannabis users. “We’re not lazy stoners.”

Howard told the group that her daughter has obtained medical marijuana from the Lewes dispensary and said the staff there has been “so kind” to her.

“They want her to get the medical help she needs,” Howard said. Her daughter, she said, “doesn’t want to inundate her body with further pharmaceuticals,” in addition to those she is using to fight her illness.

“She’s never stoned. She’s managing her pain,” Howard said.

In addition to the current legalization in Delaware of marijuana for some medical uses, Patchell and Delaware CAN Vice President John Sybert said legalizing the recreational use of marijuana would simply regulate an existing industry and make it safer. House Bill 110, they said, would create 145 new cannabis businesses in Delaware, resulting in $100 million in economic growth.

The bill would also create safer communities, they said, by out-competing the illegal marijuana market. The organization says that 61 percent of Delaware residents support the taxation and regulation of marijuana for adults 21 or older.

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is that this is an already existing industry,” Patchell said. “The people that want to consume cannabis are already consuming cannabis,” Nowhere that recreational marijuana has been legalized — no state, nor country — has seen an increase in consumption following legalization, she said.

H.B. 110, Patchell said, “is not going to create a new industry. It just decides who controls it.” She added that Delaware CAN has no stake in the potential business aspects of legalizing recreational marijuana.

“We’re doing this to stop the arrests. We’re doing this to stop the racial disparity. We’re doing this to stop the civil asset forfeiture.”

Patchell said minorities are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use than white users, while usage rates between races are virtually the same.

Civil asset forfeiture clauses in current laws allow law-enforcement to seize the property of someone arrested for marijuana use if there is any cause to believe that property is connected in any way to the marijuana possession. Getting property back afterwards can be a long and costly process, she said.

Delaware CAN views cannabis prohibition as “a costly, failed policy that is just as ineffective and as problematic as alcohol prohibition,” according to the organization’s literature. The group maintains that cannabis-related arrests divert manpower from “real public safety concerns,” toward “a completely victimless act.”

H.B 110 was released from committee a year ago but stalled in the Delaware House. In the interim, a task force was formed to produce a report on the issue. The report was approved for release in March.

Delaware CAN is sponsoring several local events in the coming weeks, including a Global Cannabis March event in Rehoboth Beach on Saturday, May 5. The march begins at 2 p.m. at Surfside Park and ends at the Rehoboth Beach bandstand, with speakers and other activities.

The organization is also participating in Cannabis Lobby Day on May 8 at Legislative Hall in Dover from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Participants are being asked to “dress professionally” and can register for the event online at There will also be a meet-and-greet at the Big Chill, south of Dewey Beach, on June 10.

More information on Delaware CAN’s positions and upcoming activities is available at

By Kerin Magill
Staff Reporter