Anti-Resolutions: Treat Yourself

Why not give in to the inevitable and enjoy some of these decadent activities?

Here we go again. It’s the New Year, and just about everyone you know has made a promise—to lose weight, to quit smoking, to get in shape, to eat better, save more, spend less—you name it.

January is the month for resolutions, but according to a 2013 study by the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 8 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them going throughout the year.

So why court this failure? Let’s take the opposite approach: let’s splurge on ourselves. January can be a long, cold month. Try to enjoy it with these anti-resolutions.

Weekend Craft Beer Tour

Shake off the holiday hangover by hitting Delaware’s craft breweries for tastings and tours. Start things off upstate at Twin Lakes in Greenville, where Saturday tours begin at 1 p.m., cost $22, and include a complimentary gourmet cheese tray.
Next, head south to Dover and hit the combined Fordham/Old Dominion Brewery for a 3 p.m. tour for just $5. Your admission includes a pre-tour sample of one beer, tastes throughout the tour, and a souvenir glass to take with you.
From there, hop back on Route 1 and head to Dogfish Head in Milton for the last tour at 5 p.m. Tours are absolutely free, and include four free samples. Be sure to grab some memorabilia and, since you’ve probably had a few sips by this point, a snack at Bunyan’s Lunchbox, to help absorb some of that alcohol.

Since you’re already pretty far south, we suggest keeping the beer theme going with a room at Dogfish Head Inn, located on the Lewes Harbor. Weekend rates start at just $139 (offseason) for a double-queen room that sleeps four comfortably.

On Sunday, rise and shine with some complimentary Dogfish Head chicory coffee, and head north to 16 Mile Brewery in Georgetown. The tasting tavern opens at noon, though no tours are available on Sunday. Once you’re finished sampling their bold session ales, head to Mispillion River Brewing in Milford, open until 6 p.m. No tours are available, and like 16 Mile, they do not offer food, but you’re welcome to bring your own.

Once you’re back up New Castle County way, you have two options for a great beer-themed dinner: Stewart’s Brewing Company in Bear, or Iron Hill Brewery in Newark or Wilmington. Both award-winning brewpubs offer great seasonal fare and growlers to go, if you’re in the mood for a nightcap.

Posh Pampering at Montchanin Inn

Detox and de-stress from the holiday season with a five-to-six-hour spa day at Montchanin Inn, where for around $450 you’ll be treated to a full massage, body ritual, facial, manicure, pedicure and lunch between sessions.

Your day starts with some unwinding and meditation in the relaxation room, where antioxidant waters and fresh fruit are set out to begin cleansing the digestive system. From there, you can choose either a full body Swedish or healing stone massage.

Next, the body ritual begins. Your skin is scrubbed, exfoliated and moisturized, targeting the lymphatic, muscular and circular systems. Once that is complete, a lunch menu is provided, with light and healthy offerings like fresh fruit, an imported cheese plate, and various salads.

For the second part of your day, you’re treated to a facial, manicure and pedicure, so that by the time you leave, your body and mind are completely refreshed and ready to take on the rest of 2015. Reservations are required for full-day sessions, and the spa is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. For reservations, call 888-2133.

Laughs at The Grand

Because the winter can be cold and cruel, laugh your way through January, February and March with four gut-busters at The Grand. Some of the comedians coming through Wilmington are sure to put a smile on your frozen face, starting with veteran Paula Poundstone on Saturday, Jan. 10 ($30-$37).

Two more legends make their way to the opera house for repeat performances. First up is Blue Collar Comedy Tour alum Ron White and his scotch-and-cigar set on Sunday, Jan. 18 ($50-$59), followed by famed D-lister Kathy Griffin on Sunday, Feb. 15 ($59-$71).

And finally, on Thursday, March 26, The Grand will welcome for the first time Hannibal Buress, the Chicago-born comic who serves as co-host of Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show ($50-$60). Named to Variety’s “Ten Comics to Watch in 2010,” Buress’ controversial style landed him in the news recently after a rant about rape allegations against Bill Cosby during a performance at The Trocadero in Philadelphia. Expect the unexpected.

Chef’s Tasting at Domaine Hudson

For foodies, it doesn’t get much better than devouring four or six courses from a great chef. Put your stomach and palate in the hands of Chef Dwain Kalup and Wine Steward Richard Hover, both of whom will cater to your dining whims at Domaine Hudson.

In addition to excellent three-course, prix fixe menus offered daily, chef’s tastings and wine dinners are where the Domaine crew really get to show off their skills. At a wine dinner in November, they hosted Le Cadeau Vineyard owner Tom Mortimer, who paired some of his best varietals with Chef Kalup’s culinary offerings.

The menu included a porcini and black truffle tortellini paired with a 2008 e Cadeau Côte Est and a Painted Hills Farm sirloin of beef with a 2007 Le Cadeau Rocheux as part of a five-course, six-wine private dinner.

“The beauty of attending one of our private dinners, typically held on a Sunday when the restaurant is closed for business, is that you get the most intimate experience with the winemaker on hand,” Hover says. “The boutique winemakers we host are always happy to share their experiences and what they were trying to accomplish with each varietal.”

The folks at Domaine Hudson are in the planning stages of 2015, when they plan to have several four- and six-course chef’s tasting options and at least one wine dinner per month. While cost for the tastings varies depending on the dishes served, wine dinners are typically $95 per person. For more information, check out

An Overnight Stay with Style

You may have dined in the Hotel du Pont’s famed Green Room or seen a show at the DuPont Theatre, but staying a night at the at the century-old hotel should also be on every Delawarean’s bucket list.

The classic rooms start at $199 on weekends in January and February, while the luxury rooms, which are basically mini-suites complete with four-fixture bathrooms and separate living and dining areas, are $229 per night.

If you pay in advance, which is non-refundable, the overnight charge for a luxury suite is reduced to $183. The hotel offers breakfast in the Green Room, valet parking, DuPont Theatre and Longwood Gardens tickets, all through the concierge service.

“If I had to choose three words to sum up the Hotel du Pont, they would be: class, grace and elegance,” says Carolyn Grubb, director of public relations at the hotel. “Our dining room has not really changed since the hotel opened in 1913, and it has received the AAA Triple Diamond award for 29 consecutive years, while the hotel itself has received the award for 38 straight years.”

For a closer look at the accommodations at the hotel and menus offered at the Green Room, check out or call 594-3100.

Cocktails To Impress Your Holiday Guests

Recipes from five experts will help make your party a success

You say you’re hosting a holiday gathering? Of course, other folks in your circle of family and friends have the exact same idea. So how do you make your shindig stand out?

Well, start with a cool Evite, a smorgasbord of delicious food, and—the clincher—some of the best, most creative cocktails—which you mix up. For the latter, we present these five seasonal drinks, provided by chefs and bartenders at some of our local dining and drinking spots. They’re sure to have the whole party toasting your hosting prowess.

The Finnigan

—Bill Hoffman, co-owner and executive chef, The House of William & Merry, Hockessin

Interestingly enough, this is the only hot cocktail on our list, and also probably the most labor-intensive. Bill Hoffman microwaves two ounces of Hine cognac with a half-ounce of wild cinnamon gastrique, which he makes in-house, insisting it’s not too difficult to make.
“A gastrique is basically vinegar, sugar and fruit or vegetable —in this case raw cinnamon bark—and can even help with digestion,” Hoffman says. “I use champagne vinegar in my gastrique because it provides a nice tangy flavor profile.”

For the gastrique, Hoffman starts by simmering a half-cup of sugar, two ounces of cinnamon bark and a quarter cup of water until the mixture begins to bubble. He cooks it down, reducing the sauce by about one-third, then adds the champagne vinegar. Once it gets to a syrup consistency (after an hour or two), he strains the liquid.

As for the garnish on the Finnigan, Bill uses muddled ginger in the bottom of the glass, pouring the cognac and gastrique over top, then transfers that mixture to a separate glass, where, waiting on the bottom, is orange confit.

Confit is French for cooking food in oil, grease or sugar water, the latter of which Bill uses with navel oranges. He slices them thin (about ¼-inch), removes the seeds, and places them in simple syrup (a cup of sugar melted into a cup of water on medium heat).

He then places the orange slices in the warm mixture, keeping the heat low, until the pits are translucent. “You can leave them in the liquid and eat them cold and they’ll dissolve in your mouth,” he says. “They serve as a different twist on the standard orange you’d find at the bottom of an Old Fashioned, and they are a nice treat to snack on when you’re done with the drink.”

Egg Nog Brandy Alexander

—Robert Lhulier, chef, University & Whist Club, Wilmington

Since his days working at the legendary Chef’s Table at the former David Finney Inn in Old New Castle, Robert Lhulier has been pleasing guests with his personal take on the Brandy Alexander. Now at the University & Whist Club, Lhulier still relies on this classic during the holiday season.

“I started drinking Brandy Alexanders in my 20s and really fell in love with them around Christmas time,” Lhulier says. “But I wanted to sort of put my own spin on things, and bringing in egg nog seemed appropriate for the time of year.”

Lhulier replaces the fresh cream with a scoop of quality French vanilla ice cream, like Häaagen-Dazs or Breyers, along with three ounces of good store-bought egg nog, like Hy-Point or Wawa Gold. He dumps those ingredients, along two ounces of brandy and one ounce of crème de cacao, into the blender and lets her rip.

“You definitely want to have a good balance of the ingredients, so I usually go with equal parts booze to ice cream to egg nog,” Lhulier says. “Otherwise you might end up with a headache in a glass or a thick milkshake. It’s a great drink that I like to sip on while decorating.”

The Coquito

—Chris Baittinger, chef, Meals for Shields, Wilmington

A classic holiday cocktail that’s popular in Puerto Rico, the Coquito (pronounced co-key-toe) is another egg-nog-like drink that features rum, evaporated and condensed milk, cream of coconut and seasonal spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

Chris Baittinger first tasted the drink at a holiday party in the Bronx, where his now-ex-wife’s family gathered and decided to test him. “Her Uncle Emilio made me a strong one to see if I could handle my alcohol,” Baittinger says. “I’ll tell you, it’s a sneaky drink that catches up with you quick.”

Baittinger’s recipe calls for a bit of work, beginning with boiling two or three cinnamon sticks in two cups of water until the water turns yellow. Once strained, add 12 ounces of evaporated milk and 14 ounces of condensed milk, along with four egg yolks, and return to the heat.

Simmering on low, constantly stir the ingredients into a “brown muck” for about 10 minutes, then add 15 ounces of cream of coconut, cooking for three minutes before removing from the stove. Then add four cups of white rum (or bourbon, if you so choose), along with a pinch of nutmeg and salt.

“Let it cool and definitely drink it chilled,” Baittinger says. “It’s like no other egg nog you’ve ever tasted, and if you happen to be a bourbon fan, replace the rum with some Maker’s 43. Those vanilla notes add a lot of good flavor to the drink.”

Autumn Margarita

—Brandy Willever, bartender, Ulysses Gastropub, North Wilmington

A margarita might feel like more of a summertime drink, but not in this particular concoction, a favorite of Brandy Willever. The trick, she says, is infusing a bottle of Jose Cuervo with all the right fall flavors.

“We use apples, pears, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom for the infusion. That way all those sweet but natural flavors bring life to the drink, and we don’t have to rely on triple sec, sweet-n-sour or lime juice.”

Allow the flavors to infuse for about a week, then combine about four ounces of the tequila with two ounces of orange juice and two ounces of apple cider, shake and serve over ice. The result is reminiscent of applesauce topped with cinnamon.

The Cran Before Thyme

—Ben Muse, general manager, Two Stones Pub, North Wilmington

Whether you buy the gelatinous, canned version or go the fresh, sautéed route, cranberry sauce seems to make an appearance at nearly every holiday meal this time of year.

That being the case, Ben Muse, of Two Stones Pub, likes to take one of his favorite classic cocktails, the gin and tonic, and infuse it with a little sweet and tart for the holiday season.
He takes your average amount of Hendrick’s Gin (about two ounces), adds 1.5 ounces of tonic, a half-ounce of fresh lime juice, then mixes in an ounce of cranberry simple syrup, which you can easily make at home.

For the syrup, Muse starts with roughly four ounces of fresh cranberries, heating them in equal amounts water and sugar, until the cranberries start popping open. He then adds fresh thyme for a slightly savory flavor profile, and lets the ingredients steep for about 15 minutes.

After that, simply strain the elements, put the cranberry simple syrup into a jar and seal it. If you make the syrup around the first week of December, it should last you all month, provided it’s kept cold in the fridge.

Has Craft Beer Peaked?

Hardly. Over the next two years, another 1,500 breweries are expected to join the burgeoning $15 billion industry

It’s been 30 years since Jim Koch decided to branch out and make his own beer under the Boston Beer Company name. His grassroots campaign consisted of simply going from bar to bar and trying to convince owners and bartenders to put his Samuel Adams Boston Lager on tap.

Today, the industry that Koch started is thriving. Beer bars, brew pubs and gastropubs dot the dining and drinking scene. The more than 3,000 craft breweries represent a $14.8 billion industry, and while they have captured just 7.3 percent of the market, that promises to increase rapidly. According to the Brewers Association, more than 1,500 new craft breweries are on the way. They hope to appeal to the more educated palate of beer drinkers, to whom Citra, Cascade and Willamette hops are household names.

But where does it go from here? Is there any concern about oversaturation? Is there such a thing as brand loyalty anymore? Are there so many IPAs available that drinkers’ heads are spinning before they even take their first sip?

State of the craft

The Brewers Association reports that craft sales increased by 17.2 percent for the first half of 2014. That spike is just one reason why the number of craft breweries is expected to increase by 50 percent over the next year or two. In fact, sales are so robust that if craft brews didn’t come in so many colors, this could be called the golden age of beer.
Once the deluge of new breweries happens, however, there is some debate over where the chips will fall and who will be left standing.
Don Russell, who for nearly two decades has written the “Joe Sixpack” column for the Philadelphia Daily News, believes the industry is growing and will continue to do so for some time. He also believes that 3,000 number put out by the Brewers Association is deceptive.

“A lot of those breweries are brew pubs, where most of the beer is consumed on the property,” Russell says. “If the brew pub makes bad beer, or the restaurant falters, that doesn’t affect the industry, in my opinion. It’s the smaller production breweries trying to break through that will have the toughest climb. At the end of the day, however, if they make bad beer, they’ll go belly up. It’s just that simple.”

Russell believes craft will continue to grow because for the first time in our history, the newly christened beer drinkers (i.e., 21-year-olds) are already familiar with craft beer. “People in their 20s have grown up with craft; it’s what their parents drink, in a lot of cases. They don’t have to go through the learning experiences most of us did. For them, it’s always existed; the craft beer language is part of their vocabulary.”

Even though craft sales are still less than 10 percent of the total market, I don’t see it going anywhere but up from here.

-J. Burke Morrison

J. Burke Morrison, former director of the Craft and Specialty Imports Division for Standard Distributing, sees a “bifurcation of the craft segment into regional and craft brands” developing, wherein national brands like Goose Island, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium will start losing their “craftiness” due to overproduction.

“It’s really hard to be ‘craft’ on a national level,” Morrison says. “Goose Island in Chicago and Blue Point in New York have already been purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev, and people who know that are already looking on those brands with pessimism.”

Naturally, Morrison hopes a more farm-to-table approach, if you will, begins to show in the craft market. After all, he left his position with Standard to start Flint Hill Farm Distillery, near Landenberg, Pa. The company will brew its own beer and make its own whiskey, rye and vodka, among other spirits, with 2015 as a target opening date.

“Even though craft sales are still less than 10 percent of the total market, I don’t see it going anywhere but up from there,” Morrison says. “It’s the localization of craft that will help sustain those smaller breweries in the long run. The pie will get bigger, but the individual pieces, economically speaking, will likely get smaller.”

Timely specials

When Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant first opened its doors in Newark in 1996, and for several years thereafter, they featured six “house” or flagship beers, with one or two seasonal or special brews on tap, typically based on the time of year. Eventually, customer demand for something new and different on each visit meant seasonals would become more prevalent. The spring Maibock, the summer Hefeweizen and the autumn Oktoberfest, among others, began to make a regular appearance on tap.

Brian Finn, now head brewer at Iron Hill Wilmington, was there during the early days and remembers how those special beers first started to make a dent in the house beer rotation. Nowadays, the specials and seasonals are just as important—if not more so—than the five house beers he keeps on tap at the Riverfront location.

“It’s the brewer’s call on what seasonals to run, but we’re told to not waste tank space or time with the house beers,” Finn says. “I have the luxury of being able to call the West Chester or Newark location if I need a keg or two of our Ironbound Ale or Pig Iron Porter, but the addition of more specials and seasonals, although the brewer’s call, really comes down to what the customers want.”

This time of year, it’s hard to visit any microbrewery and not see a pumpkin beer on tap. We as a foodie culture have gone gonzo for gourds, as in the pumpkin spiced latte, pumpkin pie and pumpkin muffins and doughnuts. So is it a trendy brew that appeals to pumpkin fans, or is it a flat-out moneymaker?

“We’ll look at our numbers all year long, and there are spikes in sales with certain seasonals,” says Finn. “But we don’t see any rise in sales like we do with the pumpkin beers we brew. People come out and line up for pumpkin beer like no other seasonal or special. Brewers make the decision of what to brew and when, but there are certain seasonals—like the Oktoberfest and Dry Irish Stout in March—that always sell and just make sense to have on tap.”

Eric Williams, president of the year-old Mispillion Brewery in Milford, is respectful of the popularity of seasonal brews and the pumpkin craze that has followed. But he also feels that attention paid to seasonals and special, one-off brews can be overdone. He also refuses to brew a pumpkin beer.

“There are four seasons in a year, yet we’re brewing 12 ‘seasonal’ beers a year? To me, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” says Williams, a former home brewer-turned-entrepreneur. “As a younger brewery, we have to pay attention to our core brews as we try to corner the market in terms of accounts, because those bars and restaurants that purchase our beer to sell on tap need to know that they can expect the same level of quality with every keg.”

As an alternative to the pumpkin craze, Mispillion brews its Miss Betty, a brown ale brewed with 160 lbs. per batch (a batch is 15 barrels, or 465 gallons) of sweet potatoes, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla beans and pecans. Williams won’t go so far as to say he’s “anti-pumpkin,” but he also won’t join the race to get a pumpkin beer or autumnal seasonal available in late August, when they’re meant to be enjoyed in October and November.

Have IPAs jumped the shark?

Don Russell recently wrote a Joe Sixpack column about how IPA “no longer means just India pale ale.” The piece talked about how American brewers have helped change the style into something much more ambiguous, and featured a doctored photo of a bottle of beer with a label that read, “Bud Light IPA.”

While Anheuser-Busch InBev has yet to create a Bud or Bud Light IPA, Russell believes it’s just a matter of time. The IPA has become such a staple on beer menus and at breweries across the country that it’s simply a matter of economics. As Russell points out, “IPAs are selling and they’re popular, so it’s almost inevitable that Bud or Miller or Coors will produce an IPA in the near future.”

So if the “Big 3” are considering making a standardized IPA for the macrobrewery fans out there, does that mean the IPA has officially jumped the shark? Are its days numbered as one of the most popular styles of craft beer? Is it time for beer drinkers to put down the IPA and stop obsessing over hops?

“I think some people could use an intervention,” says Russell, laughing. “My wife is a huge fan, and that’s the only thing she’ll drink.” Russell says just about every brewery he comes across in his “research” features an IPA in some way, shape or form, and some even note how overblown the style has become.

“Look at 21st Amendment out of San Francisco,” he says. “They just sent me a press release about their new Bla Bla Bla IPA. I mean if that doesn’t underscore the point that we’ve been saturated by IPAs, I don’t know what does. I love hops and IPAs as much as the next guy, but my concern is that breweries are backing off other styles in favor of brewing sometimes two or three different India pale ales.”

Tim Crowley, general manager of Kelly’s Logan House in Wilmington’s Trolley Square, agrees with Russell. “There are a lot of great styles out there you are missing,” he says. “Always drink what you like, but don’t be scared to try something different. You may be pleasantly surprised.”

The Logan House features an army of IPAs on tap, in the bottle and in the can. It even has an IPA Happy Hour dedicated to hop heads, during which pints of any of it four IPAs on draft are $3.75, and 4-oz. samplers of all four sell for $6.

But not all beer geeks are anti-IPA. Take Iron Hill’s Finn, who favors Belgians, but is all-in when it comes to IPAs because, as he puts it, “It’s what Americans do best because our hops are the most pungent and some of the best in the world.”

Finn couldn’t care less if customers demand and drink IPAs because it might be trendy. As a brewer, he sees the IPA, and what American brewers have done with the style, as a reason to be proud on the global beer stage.

“This is not a bad thing, to be so good at brewing a particular style that brewers around the world are trying to copy us now,” Finn says. “Microbreweries in the U.S. used to try and copy the classic German, English and Czech styles, but now they’re copying us in many ways. We’ve come full circle in that respect.”

One thing all the experts we talked to agree on is that most craft beer drinkers tend to seek out their favorite style, rather than their favorite label. IPA drinkers will try any IPA at least once, Morrison says, whether it’s from Lagunitas, Dogfish or the brewery right around the corner.

“Styles over brands is definitely a bigger factor in the consumer’s thought process these days,” Morrison says. “That hits right to the point that if the customer wants a particular style, you as a brewery or distillery should be accommodating them. The ones that do it well on a consistent basis are the ones that will survive.”

A Growing Debate

Will Delaware be the next state to decriminalize marijuana? Legislation will be introduced and debated—once again—in January.

Since 1973, 19 states have done it, from as far north as Alaska, west to Oregon, and south to Mississippi.

A little closer to home, New York and the District of Columbia have done it.

This month, neighboring areas like Philadelphia and Maryland are doing it.

Across the country, states and municipalities are decriminalizing marijuana—minimizing the penalties for possession, removing criminal charges and prison sentences. Instead, those caught with small amounts of pot are given citations for fines, much like a parking or speeding ticket.

Will Delaware be the next state to decriminalize marijuana?

Two years ago, the state legalized medicinal marijuana, and the first of three medical marijuana dispensaries is set to open in 2015. In May of this year, Representative Helene M. Keeley (D-Wilmington), along with 14 other legislators, submitted a bill to lessen the penalties under Title 16 of the Delaware Code. (Title 16 views possession of any amount of marijuana as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by incarceration of up to six months and a maximum fine of $1,150.) Though the legislation never came up for a vote, Keeley and her group plan to submit a similar proposal in January at the 148th General Assembly in Dover.

Keeley’s proposal calls for a $250 civil penalty for anyone found in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in public. Offenders under the age of 21 will also be fined $250 and charged with an unclassified misdemeanor, but it will not be recorded in any criminal history database.

“For me, it comes down to the barriers set in place when someone is caught with a small amount of marijuana,” Keeley said. “On a job application, for instance, you are asked if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime or drug offense, many times without the opportunity to explain what the circumstances were.”

“Additionally, when you really start to think about people at the high school or college age experimenting with drugs and alcohol, their futures can really be put into jeopardy with a criminal record,” Keeley said. “I’m not saying that [experimentation] is right, but it happens at that age. Do we really want to kick those kids out of college or take away their scholarships? That would only change lives for the worse.”

Senator Bryan Townsend (D-Newark), who supported Keeley’s legislation in May and will do so again in January, says he has spoken with constituents of all ages who have been arrested for minimal quantities of marijuana.

“I’ve met people who have been arrested and detained for a joint found in their car during a routine traffic stop,” Townsend says. “The next day they miss work due to being detained, then they’re suddenly out of a job, and so begins a cycle where it’s very difficult to keep momentum going to put them in a good place with work and their own livelihood.”
Not everyone, of course, is for decriminalization. Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson (R-Milford) is one of the more vocal opponents. In The News Journal of May 30, Simpson said, “I don’t believe we need to legalize marijuana,” and referred to it as a “pathway to greater drug use.”

…as far as recreational marijuana, I just don’t think we need to go down that path right now.

—Senator Gary Simpson


“There was some merit, I thought, to marijuana for medical use for people that are sick,” Simpson went on. “But as far as recreational marijuana, I just don’t think we need to go down that path right now. I think my caucus members would feel the same way.”

Despite Simpson’s views, fellow Republican Michael Ramone (R-Middle Run Valley) sees the laws relating to the use and possession of a limited amount of marijuana as “overzealous.”

“I do support decriminalization if it is done the right way,” Ramone says. “Three major issues that need to be identified are the cost of processing offenders versus ticketing them, policing marijuana charges versus true addiction issues, and overcrowding of our prisons with violators awaiting trials.”

“Marijuana laws as they are currently written… create more issues than we are solving,” Ramone says. “When that happens, my duty is to try and fix it.”

I feel pretty confident that more and more people want to see something done on this issue.

—Representative Helene M. Keeley

KeeleyWebKeeley is hopeful she can get the decriminalization bill passed by June. With nearly six months between her official submission in January and the General Assembly’s recess in June, legislators will have plenty of time to debate the issue and see the merits of her plan.

“I feel pretty confident that more and more people want to see something done on this issue,” Keeley says. “Some of my fellow legislators probably didn’t want to vote on such a big issue in an election year, and progressive ideas like this take time.”

Jonathan Dworkin, spokesperson for Gov. Markell, had this to say about decriminalization: “The Governor has expressed interest in ongoing dialogue regarding changing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. He looks forward to conversations with members of the General Assembly about opportunities to do so.”

Delaware’s Neighbors Decriminalize

When Keeley’s proposal reaches the General Assembly in January, legislators and their constituents can look to nearby states for examples of how decriminalization may or may not be working.

On Oct. 1, Maryland joined the 19 other states in decriminalizing marijuana, lowering the current penalty for possession of less than 10 grams from a fine of up to $500, up to 90 days in jail, or both, to a civil crime of up to $100 for a first offense, with no jail time. Maryland thus joined neighboring Washington, D.C. in the decriminalization movement.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed similar legislation in September, after members of City Council approved a decriminalization bill in May. Councilman Jim Kenney (D-Philadelphia) championed the legislation, which calls for a $25 fine for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and a $100 fine for public consumption.

“This is a huge deal for the city,” Kenney told Out & About soon after Nutter signed the legislation. “Everything should be in effect by Oct. 20, and it’s going to save the city a lot of money. We have so many people locked up. If we were to put that money into education and treatment, we’d be a lot better off.”

Kenney’s staff estimated that 17,000 police hours were spent on more than 4,200 arrests for marijuana possession in 2013. Coupled with court and prison costs, marijuana arrests cost Philadelphia close to $4 million, according to calculations by Kenney’s staff and the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Of the 23,000 records of those currently incarcerated in Delaware prisons, only 140 are for drug possession under the parameters of Title 16, according to Deputy Bureau Chief Christopher Klein, of the Delaware Department of Corrections. Klein also says that because Philadelphia has city jails to maintain, the cost to arrest and incarcerate an offender costs much more than it does in Wilmington or Newark.

“In Delaware, we do not have county lock-up or city jails,” Klein says “so the financial burden of incarceration within the DOC falls on the state, rather than, say, the city of Wilmington or Newark.”

Wilmington Chief of Police Bobby L. Cummings and Newark Chief Paul M. Tiernan were not readily available for comment regarding the number of marijuana arrests and subsequent expense to their respective departments.

Black and White

Statistics show that decriminalizing marijuana will have a significantly larger impact on the black community than on the white population. According to a study released in 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union, marijuana use among blacks and whites is nearly equal. In 2010, 14 percent of blacks and 12 percent of whites reported using marijuana.

However, when it comes to arrest rates for marijuana possession, according to the same study, blacks were 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested, on a national average. The largest disparity—5.19—took place in Pennsylvania, where Councilman Kenney says 83 percent of those arrested for marijuana were African American

African Americans and young people are being targeted, and that severely cuts off any avenues of advancement, be it employment, education or financial assistance.

—Councilman Jim Kenney (Philadelphia)

472899_10150652569734962_1468811173_o“The disparity in demographics is staggering, really,” Kenney said. “African Americans and young people are being targeted, and that severely cuts off any avenues of advancement, be it employment, education or financial assistance.”

A similar disparity exists in the First State, according to Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based group that lobbies to change marijuana laws. She says Delaware blacks are three times as likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana as whites.

“The thing is, marijuana use, according to the study, is basically equal across all races, yet blacks are much more targeted,” Yeung said. “And a lot of times this is happening in the same areas and the same neighborhoods.”

The case of Keenan Benson, a 43-year-old African American, is fairly typical. In 1997, Benson was charged with felony possession of marijuana. Almost 17 years later, during a routine traffic stop, a police search found a “blunt roach,” or less than an inch of a marijuana joint.

“County Police stopped me because they said there were reports of a Mexican man harassing people in the area I was driving,” Benson said. “Do I look Mexican to you?” Benson asks sarcastically.

“Since the arrest, I’ve shown up in court three times, but the officer has not, so the case has been extended,” says Benson, who served in the army from 1991-94. “Each time I have to go, that’s another day I can’t make work. And when you work for a temp agency, doing construction like I do, missing a day or even a few hours means you’re not likely to get called back for work the following day.”

Benson’s arrest is part of a trend. According to a report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, cannabis arrests in the United States have more than doubled in the last two decades.

In 1991, less than 300,000 cannabis arrests were made in the United States. In 2012, the number had reached close to 750,000.

Michael Ramone thinks marijuana is a “victimless crime,” and believes the cost of making pot arrests can be put to better use.

There should be some level of consideration for people who commit crimes unto themselves as opposed to crimes against others.

—Representative Michael Ramone

Ramone2web“There should be some level of consideration for people who commit crimes unto themselves as opposed to crimes against others,” Ramone says. “If we’re talking about a habitual offender, I understand there needs to be consequences. But before that person gets to their second or third offense, maybe we should be using the money invested in police hours and court costs and put it back into rehabilitation and abuse [prevention] programs.”

Medical Marijuana Awaits Its Dispensary

Even as the debate over decriminalization goes on, one form of possession is technically legal in Delaware: medical marijuana. Since the Medical Marijuana Act of 2012, those suffering from severe and chronic illnesses have had the opportunity to apply for a card that allows them to possess 6 ounces or less of marijuana.

But delays due to changes in policy have pushed the opening of a dispensary for medical marijuana in Delaware back to February of next year at the earliest. Paul Hyland, program administrator for Health Systems Protection in the Division of Public Health, calls early 2015 “realistic.”

The First State Compassion Center is set to open no later than April, Hyland says. Located at the Germay Industrial Park just off Route 4/Maryland Avenue in Wilmington, the 45,000-square-foot facility will include separate grow rooms, an area for processing, and retail space for points of sale.

“The permit to grow has not yet been issued, as security, surveillance and public safety need to be taken into account,” Hyland says. “Once that phase has concluded, it takes 107 days or so to grow, harvest, cure and display the product. Once the dispensary is open, marijuana will be available for sale.”

Medical marijuana card carriers like Buddy La Follette couldn’t be happier. The 51-year-old retired flight attendant has purchased and renewed his card for $125 annually for three years, waiting for the time when he could purchase pot legally.

While he waits for the dispensary to open, La Follette buys marijuana through friends, rather than off the street. He tends to use a vaporizer to “go easy on the lungs,” and also uses the oils from cannabis in butter and cooking, to enhance the benefits.

“I hurt my back at work for U.S. Airways, was put on disability, and later was diagnosed with skin cancer,” the Wilmington resident says. “I’m fortunate to have been awarded a $300,000 settlement from my employer, but purchasing has still been risky for me ever since I got sick.”

Under current law, La Follette is allowed to possess up to 6 ounces at a time in his home. However, if he were to be caught purchasing marijuana in public, he’d be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, just like any other citizen.
Even the process involved in securing a medicinal marijuana card was arduous, La Follette says. He had to obtain a physician’s certification and wait nearly three months for a background check to go through before being approved.

“Most doctors don’t even want to touch the subject, and the state of Delaware doesn’t provide you with a list of doctors that do approve [medical marijuana],” La Follette said. “Between that and having to purchase illegally, it can be a real challenge.”

La Follette is frustrated and more than ready to be able to purchase marijuana safely, without wondering what someone on the street did to enhance the drug.

“Yeah, I’m upset. It’s been three years, and the entire time I’ve been paying my annual fee, I haven’t been getting my money’s worth,” he says. “But as soon as that store opens, I’ll be the first one in line.”

By next June, depending on the fate of Keeley’s proposal, perhaps La Follette and other Delawareans who purchase marijuana—for medicinal purposes or otherwise—will have an easier time of it.