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Delaware Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Committee Vote

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A much-anticipated bill to legalize marijuana in Delaware cleared its first committee hurdle on Wednesday after wide-ranging testimony about how and whether the state should enact the reform.

The legislation, HB 150, filed by Rep. Ed Osienski (D) last week, passed the House Health and Human Development Committee in a 10-5 vote despite vocal opposition from some Republican members of the panel.

“This act allows adults over the age of 21 to legally possess and consume under one ounce of marijuana for personal use,” Osienski said, “and creates the legal framework to license and regulate a new industry that will create well-paying jobs for Delawareans while striking a blow against the criminal element, which profits from the thriving illegal market in our state.”

The bill as introduced would establish a regulated commercial cannabis system and tax sales at 15 percent. Home cultivation for personal use, however, would remain illegal.

“This is the first step,” Osienski said of Wednesday’s hearing, noting that the goal of the meeting was to listen to concerns and and consider revisions. “We still have to go through Appropriations, and this bill will not be heard on the House floor until after our Easter break sometime, possibly end of April or early May.”

Gov. John Carney (D), meanwhile, has indicated that he “still has concerns about legalizing recreational marijuana.”

Osienski was the chief sponsor of an earlier reform bill that cleared a House committee in 2019 but did not advance through the full chamber. One major difference between this latest bill and the last version is that HB 150 would not allow existing medical cannabis dispensaries to start selling marijuana during the transitional period between enactment and full implementation, as the previous bill would have done.

The new bill would also provide a path for past marijuana convictions to be expunged and would establish a business licensing category for social equity applicants, defined as individuals who live in areas disproportionately impacted by prohibition, have been convicted of a marijuana offense or are the child of someone who faced such a conviction.

For the first 16 months of implementation, regulators could approve up to 30 retail business licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses and 60 cultivation licenses, as well as up to five laboratory testing licenses.

“Half of the first round of retail licenses and testing licenses, and a third of the cultivation and manufacturing licenses, will be awarded to the pool of social equity applicants,” Osienski said.

Most of the questions asked by panel members focused on the details of the proposed regulatory scheme, for example how license applications would be scored and how closely certain outcomes would be tracked, such as the creation of private jobs.

Others panelists used the hearing as an opportunity to criticize legalization in general. Reps. Rich Collins (R) and Ruth Briggs King (R), for example, challenged the bill’s assertion that legalizing marijuana would help shrink the state’s illicit market.

“These plants are worth—just one plant, thousands of dollars,” Collins incorrectly claimed at one point in the hearing. “The amount of corruption that will come about is beyond our imagining.”

He also complained that the bill as filed is nearly 50 pages long. “In Delaware, we have a tradition: Most of our bills are relatively short and easy to understand,” he said. “This is anything but.”


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Other critics raised concerns such as increased risk of impaired driving, the possibility legalization might increase marijuana use among minors and obstacles caused by ongoing cannabis prohibition at the federal level.

Among those who testified during public comment on the bill were representatives from state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and Division of Public Health, who suggested a number of technical changes to the bill.

Nikko Brady, deputy principal assistant at the state Department of Agriculture, pointed out that the bill’s definition of cannabis seems to include low-THC hemp, which is already legal in the state and regulated by the Agriculture Department.

Brady and a representative from the Division of Public Health also suggested that lawmakers consider banning outdoor cultivation of marijuana, which they said could be subject to theft or environmental contamination.

The bill would retain penalties for impaired driving and allow employers to continue to drug test for cannabis and punish workers for being intoxicated on the job.

Incorporated cities would be allowed to ban cannabis businesses, while counties would have authority to set zoning restrictions. Marijuana could not be not be sold in the state on Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter.

Applicants would be selected based on a scoring system that would also take into account factors such as whether the business will pay workers a living wage, provide health insurance and ensure a diverse workforce.

Rep. Bryan Shupe (R) said at the hearing that was worried about a provision that would score applicants higher if they enter a peace agreement with a labor union. Osienski defended the provision but stressed that it would be up to licensing authorities to determine how to weigh qualifications.

The bill’s 15 percent sales tax, described as a “marijuana control enforcement fee” would be be imposed at the point of sale for cannabis products. Revenue would first be appropriated to cover administrative costs, and then it would be up to the legislature to apportion any additional tax dollars.

Another member of the House panel, Rep. Eric Morrison (D), stressed the drug war’s racist history and pushed back against worries raised by Republicans.

“We know from empirical studies that in states and municipalities that have legalized cannabis, that there has been little to no uptick in the number of individuals consuming cannabis,” he said. “I find it interesting that some of my Republican colleagues are suddenly concerned about public health when they adamantly opposed raising the age for tobacco to 21.”

“Even if committee members do not personally support the passage of this legislation, please remember that a majority of Delawareans do—across all political parties and independent voters,” he added. “At the very least, this legislation deserves debate and a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.”

Legalization advocates echoed the fact that legalization has broad support among state voters.

“A strong majority of Delawareans agree it is time to end cannabis prohibition and legalize cannabis for adults,” Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said after the vote. “The committee’s approval of HB 150 today shows that elected officials increasingly agree. We hope the full House will also follow the will of their constituents and the committee’s lead by taking up and approving HB 150. Prohibition has failed, and Delaware deserves a more sensible and equitable cannabis policy.”

An analysis from State Auditor Kathy McGuiness (D) released in January found that Delaware could generate upwards of $43 million annually in revenue from regulating marijuana and imposing a 20 percent excise tax. The legal market could also create more than 1,000 new jobs over five years if the policy is enacted, according to the report.

A legalization bill previously received majority support on the House floor in 2018, but procedural rules required a supermajority for it to pass and it didn’t meet that threshold.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said Carney “supported decriminalization and an expansion of Delaware’s medical marijuana program” but added that “he still has concerns about legalizing recreational marijuana.”

Despite his wariness, Carney did sign two pieces of marijuana expungement legislation in recent years. In 2017 and 2018, a state task force met to discuss issues related to legalization, and the governor hosted a series of roundtable meetings about cannabis.

Carney’s predecessor approved a measure to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis in 2015.

“We’re hopeful that 2021 may be the year Delaware ends its failed war on marijuana,” Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment after HB 150 was filed. “Instead of sending cannabis consumers across the bridge to New Jersey, the First State can create good jobs and new small businesses, while generating tens of millions in tax dollars. Voters overwhelmingly support legalization, and elected officials are increasingly taking notice.”

Legalizing Marijuana Is Cuomo’s 2021 ‘Priority’ For New York To Be ‘Progressive Capital’ Of U.S.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill

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The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.

His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.

“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.

“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”

It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.

The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.

Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.

In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.

Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.

This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.

The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.

CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.

“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”

The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.

A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).

A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”

The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.

The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.

Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.

Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”

With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.

Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.

Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.

legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).

A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.

There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.

After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.

Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.

Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”

While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.

The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.

Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.

The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.

That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.

“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.

Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.

“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”

The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.

She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”

However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.

While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.

She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.

Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.

USDA Teams Up With Cornell University For Hemp Education Webinar Series

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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