The Democratic governor of Delaware reiterated on Tuesday that he opposes marijuana legalization—though he gave some mixed signals about how he will act on a pair of bills to legalize and regulate cannabis that were sent to his desk late last month.
At a town hall event, Gov. John Carney (D) faced several questions about marijuana policy issues, and he declined to say whether he would veto the legalization legislation like he did with an earlier bill last session. But he also suggested that he views the reform as inevitable and said that it’s “time to move on” from the conversation to focus on other priorities.
“I don’t support it,” he said. “And the last time they were sent to my desk…I vetoed it because I just don’t think it’s good, mostly for young people, and I don’t think it’s good for our competitiveness,” the governor said.
He also dismissed polling that shows majority support for legalization, while adding that he doesn’t “make my decisions based on poll numbers.”
On their own, the initial comments left an impression that he’s inclined to veto the legislation again. But Carney went on to say that “ultimately, I think the reality is we’ll have some enterprise here—when is the question.”
Watch the governor discuss marijuana legalization in the video below, starting around 44:55:
“I think we just work with all states to do it, right? We don’t know about impaired driving. We don’t have a test like you do with alcohol,” he said. “There’s lots of different issues we don’t—we’re not sure. It wouldn’t be allowed for children, but children would get their hands on it.”
Carney similarly expressed concern about impaired driving implications shortly after the legislature delivered the bills to his desk, and a spokesperson separately told Marijuana Moment that the governor “continues to have strong concerns about the unintended consequences of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in our state, especially about the impacts on our young people and highway safety.”
Still, Carney said on Tuesday that most people share the perspective that cannabis “ought to be regulated in a tighter way, for want of a better term,” and “wherever we end up, that ought to be the goal.”
The governor again indicated that he seems to regard legalization as inevitable, saying that with “different priorities” like addressing opioid overdoses still confronting the state, “we’ve spent, in my view, too much time” addressing on marijuana reform.
“It’s time to move on to the next set of challenges, and that’s about where we are,” he said.
The governor has until Saturday to act on the simple legalization bill, while his deadline for the regulatory measure is next Wednesday.
Carney has a few options for the two bills—HB 1 and HB 2, which would legalize marijuana possession and set up a regulated adult-use market, respectively. He could veto or sign both, of course (or allow the legislation to take effect without his signature). But it’s also possible that he take the more modest step of only allowing the simple legalization measure to become law, giving legislators another shot at developing a regulatory framework that meets his standards.
But given that he insisted that there’s agreement about the need for “tighter regulations,” it’s unclear if he’d be willing to enact legalization of possession without those guardrails. All told, the governor’s comments at the town hall event raised more questions than answers about his intentions for the bills.
Rep. Ed Osienski (D), sponsor of the measures, recently said that if the governor seeks to veto the legislation again this time, he’s “optimistic” and feels “pretty good” that they have the votes for an override.
“I think my colleagues are saying, ‘OK, you know, you had one shot at vetoing this, you did and you were successful, but don’t count on us supporting that veto again,’” he said.
Both the simple legalization bill and the sales regulation measure cleared both chambers with more than enough votes to override any potential veto.
Here’s what the HB 1 legalization bill would accomplish:
State statute would be revised to legalize the possession, use, sharing and purchasing of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older.
To avoid abuses of the “gifting” provision, the bill stipulates that “adult sharing” would not include giving away cannabis “contemporaneously with another reciprocal transaction between the same parties” such as an exchange of a non-marijuana item.
Public consumption and growing cannabis would remain prohibited.
People under 21 who engage in such activity would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $100 for a first offense. Police could use discretion and issue a citation in lieu of that fine, however.
Here’s an overview of the key provisions of the HB 2 regulatory bill:
The legislation would provide a basic framework to create a regulated system of cannabis commerce for adults in the state.
The Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement (DATE) would be responsible for regulating the market through a new Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner.
For the first 16 months of implementation, regulators could approve up to 30 cannabis retail licenses.
Applicants who show that they’d provide a living wage, health insurance coverage, sick and paid leave and focus on diversity in hiring would be prioritized in the licensing scoring process.
Seven percent of marijuana business fee revenue would go to a “Justice Reinvestment Fund” that supports restorative justice, workforce development, technical assistance for economically disadvantaged people and more.
That fund would also go toward “creating or developing technology to assist with the restoration of civil rights and expungement of criminal records.” However, the legislation itself doesn’t provide for automatic expungements.
In additional to conventional retail, cultivator, manufacturer and laboratory licenses, the bill would additional provide for social equity and microbusiness licenses (reserved for applicants with majority ownership by Delaware residents).
Localities would be able to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their area through ordinance.
Adult-use marijuana sales would be subject to a 15 percent sales tax. Medical cannabis products would not be taxed.
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Osienski made the calculated decision to break up the measures in the previous session after an earlier proposal that included both components was rejected in the House because it failed to reach the three-fifths vote requirement.
Shortly after the House passed the latest versions of the legalization measures last month, the Senate approved a resolution that urges the state’s congressional representatives to support legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.
Separately, in October, Carney vetoed a more narrowly tailored bill that would have clarified that medical marijuana patients are not prohibited from buying, possessing or transferring firearms under state law
A strong majority of Delaware voters support legalizing marijuana—including nearly three in four Democrats who back the reform that the state’s Democratic governor vetoed last year, according to a poll released that month.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.