A Delaware lawmaker who sponsored a pair of recently enacted marijuana legalization and sales bills is offering some advice to fellow legislators in other states who are thinking about pursuing the reform.
Rep. Ed Osienski (D) discussed the complex politicking that was required to advance legalization during a Facebook Live event hosted by the Marijuana Policy Project and Delaware Cannabis Policy Coalition on Tuesday.
He attributed much of the success to his staff who worked alongside him, monitoring legalization laws that were being implemented in other states, building a bipartisan coalition to support his efforts and drafting and revising the two cannabis bills that Gov. John Carney (D) ultimately allowed to take effect without his signature last month.
Picking the right staff who are “passionate” about the issue is key, Osienski said, as well as finding co-prime sponsors in both chambers who are willing to do the difficult work.
Also, he advised legislators to sit down with “affected state agencies” like the Departments of Health, Finance and Agriculture. “We had to sit down through meeting after meeting to try to work out a lot of the issues,” he said.
Osienski recommended that lawmakers avoid “opening up the revenue that’s collected from [legalization] to a lot of different issues” and “try to keep that to a minimum.”
“But the key was just to keep plugging away at it and see what the other states have done and see what works best for your state,” he said.
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He emphasized the importance, and challenges, of reaching compromises with members of both parties. Legislators will need to walk a tight line, as issues beyond ending simply prohibition—such as social equity and law enforcement concerns—can be divisive.
In Delaware, Osienski decided to take a bifurcated approach to reform, with one simple legalization bill and a complementary measure that establishes regulations for the cannabis industry. The approach worked, as some lawmakers ultimately supported the latter proposal after legalization passed.
But it took several years to get the job done, as the governor vetoed his earlier legalization bill in 2022, “which really killed our progress on that regulation and taxation bill” for that session, Osienski said.
“That was very upsetting, and I lost votes to override the veto,” he said. “There’s a lot of politicking going on. There’s a lot of stuff happening on behind the scenes, a lot of promises made where the governor was successful in stealing enough votes away where any veto override was impossible to put together. But this year, different story.”
He also said that there was “a lot of pressure from the existing compassion centers that dispense medical products,” as well as “pushback from the patients” who have been dissatisfied with the cannabis availability in dispensaries and “certainly did not want to see them dispensing their products for recreational users when they were still struggling for their medical needs.”
The lawmaker said that he understands those concerns and would be “more than willing to run legislation that will be beneficial to patients and to compassion centers to help generate more products that we’re going to sell to the patients that are in need.”
Meanwhile, the Delaware Senate separately approved a resolution in March that urges the state’s congressional representatives to support legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.
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
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.