Debate Over Cannabis Resumes in Delaware
DOVER, Del. — For the second time in two years, the Delaware House on Thursday approved a bill that would effectively create a recreational cannabis marketplace in the state, despite the legislation’s almost certain veto by the state’s governor.
Aside from being a referendum on the place of cannabis in 21st century society, the long running debate over it in Delaware is also an object lesson on the limits of power even when one party — in this case the Democrats — control the state House and Senate and the governor’s office.
The bill passed Thursday would create a framework to regulate the growth, sale and possession of cannabis, effectively treating it the same way the state does alcohol.
Earlier this week, the House passed a separate bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for the use or possession of cannabis for personal use.
Both bills have now advanced to the state Senate, where Democrats have a supermajority.
“It has taken more than a decade of work on the part of grassroots volunteers and our bill sponsors to get to this historic victory,” Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network Executive Director Zoë Patchell said in a written statement after the vote.
“The people have always been the underdog in this fight. Now, after years of delaying reform, we’re finally seeing legislative votes reflect public support, where proponents outnumber opponents two-to-one,” Patchell said.
Which is not to say the bills face clear sailing from here.
The House and Senate went through a similar exercise last year, only to have Democratic Gov. John Carney veto the legislation.
The House then tried to override his veto, but failed to do so due to a single vote after Democratic state Rep. Larry Mitchell, House majority whip, called in sick and could not vote.
In his veto message, Carney said, “I have been clear about my position since before I took office, and I have articulated my concerns many times.”
His office reiterated his opposition to legalization as lawmakers started their 2023 session in January.
The bill has garnered bipartisan support, especially as a neighboring state, New Jersey, has been reaping the benefits of legal weed.
It has reported the Garden State collected more than $7 million in taxes on cannabis between July and September 2022 alone.
The bill passed Thursday would allow for up to 30 retail licenses to be distributed within 16 months of the legislation going into effect.
The process to get one would be competitive, with prospective retailers being rewarded for providing good salaries and benefits and hiring a diverse workforce.
The bill also creates a marijuana control enforcement fee of 15%, with 7% of the marijuana tax revenue going to a Justice Reinvestment Fund.
The fund would distribute grants and support services aimed at reducing the state’s prison population and helping ex-cons reenter society.
The next stop for the legislation is the state Senate Health Committee, which is expected to take it up next Wednesday. Democratic state Sen. Trey Paradee, who sponsored the Senate companions of the House bills, has already predicted an easy victory for the legislation in his chamber.