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.
Today at 11:00, the House Health Committee will be considering legislation legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting its release.
Agenda and registration info:https://t.co/x7nTWLaI97
— David Bentz (@DaveBentz) March 24, 2021
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.”
Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.
The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.
Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.
The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.
The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.
“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.
The Virginia Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight is meeting now. You can find the agenda and links to livestream and to provide public comment at https://t.co/f1wsPn7SV7
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) October 14, 2021
Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.
They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.
DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.
In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.
DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.
It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.
LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.
Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.
Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:
For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:
And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:
DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.
“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.
“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”
Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:
|All other tetrahydrocannabinol||1,000||2,000|
A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.
It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.
Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.
Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.
Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.
But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.
Disappointed but not surprised U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear our case. We’re pursuing our claims in federal court. As that litigation proceeds, Biden administration will have to take a position, which it avoided by waiving its right to respond to our Supreme Court petition.
— Safehouse (@SafehousePhilly) October 13, 2021
“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”
That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.
“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.
A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.
Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.
If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.
The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.