Democrats in the Delaware House and Gov. John Carney are on the same side of the political aisle, but whether they’re on the same side of the adult-use cannabis legalization aisle remains to be seen.
The Health and Human Development Committee cleared House Bill 150, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, on March 24. The legislation would create adult-use legal framework, including opportunities for small businesses to be licensed. It would also ensure people living in areas disproportionately affected by prohibition have equal access to the market, according to a press release by chief sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski.
Behind the support of six other sponsors and nine co-sponsors—all Democrat—in the 41-member House, H.B. 150 also aims at shutting down the illicit market by diverting demand from illegal enterprises, and empowering law enforcement with the ability to ensure a safe, legal market for the cultivation, sale and adult-use of cannabis, Osienski said.
“Support for adult recreational marijuana has been growing for years in Delaware and across the country. We have seen other states successfully enact policies that established a safe and legal market for cannabis, and we have studied those laws to craft the best policy for Delaware,” he said. “We believe we have a solid bill that has the support of the public, and we believe we have the political will to pass this bill into law.”
A University of Delaware poll in 2018 indicated that 61% of Delaware voters support legalizing adult-use cannabis. Support for legalization has also reached 68% nationally, according to a November 2020 Gallup Poll.
Neighboring New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an adult-use cannabis legalization bill last month, following voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment in the November 2020 election. Up in New England, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine also have legalized adult-use cannabis.
“We would be establishing a new industry that will create good-paying jobs for Delawareans while striking a blow against the marijuana illegal market,” Osienski said. “We also listened to concerns from communities that have been historically impacted by the prohibition of marijuana, and to promote equity, we have included provisions so they can participate in this new market.”
But from a governor’s standpoint, Carney isn’t entirely sold on the adult-use legalization efforts, the Democrat executive’s spokesman, Jonathan Starkey, told the Associated Press March 24.
“The governor’s position hasn’t changed,” Starkey said to the AP. “He supported decriminalization and an expansion of Delaware’s medical marijuana program. But he still has concerns about legalizing recreational marijuana.”
Carney has not directly said whether or not he’d veto H.B. 150, if it reaches his desk, according to the AP.
While Osienski said he believes H.B. 150 aims at shutting down the illicit market, critics argue the legislation will have little impact on that front, and instead will result in increased use among minors, more traffic deaths and injuries, and more people struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, according to the AP.
Under the bill, which would allow adults 21 and older to purchase up to 1 ounce of cannabis from a licensed retail store, the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement (DATE) would absorb cannabis enforcement and create a separate, administrative Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, according to Osienski’s release.
The legislation would allow for up to 30 retail licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses and 60 cultivation licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill’s effective date. It also would establish a competitive licensing process through the Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner using a scoring system that rewards applicants for paying a living wage, providing employer-paid health insurance, providing a defined benefit pension plan, providing sick and paid leave to workers, hiring more full-time workers, focusing on diversity of workforce and other factors, according to Osienski’s release.
In addition, the measure includes a 15% tax, described as a cannabis control enforcement fee, that would be assessed at the point of sale, according to the bill’s text.
H.B. 150 also has companion support in the 21-member upper chamber, including sponsorship from five senators and co-sponsorship from four senators—all Democrat. Sen. Trey Paradee, the chief sponsor, offered his viewpoint in Osienski’s release.
“The time has come for us to replace an illegal market that has overwhelmed our court system and damaged lives with a legal, regulated and responsible industry that will create thousands of good-paying jobs in Delaware,” Paradee said. “We have seen the benefits of a thriving legal cannabis industry in 15 other states. We have had time to study what works and what does not. This legislation is sound economic policy, strong social justice reform and a job creator that we absolutely should pass this year.