Delaware marijuana activists are mounting a boycott against four medical cannabis operators in the state after representatives of those companies testified in opposition to an adult-use legalization bill last month.
While the Health and Human Development Committee advanced the legislation, advocates say they were “stunned” to hear opposing voices from four of the state’s six medical marijuana companies. Those are: Columbia Care, Fresh Delaware, CannTech and EZY Venture.
The businesses argued that enacting recreational legalization as delineated in the bill would oversaturate the market with retailers and create an oversupply of marijuana. Some explicitly talked about how the reform would hurt their bottom line, while others asserted that the costs of cannabis would become prohibitive for patients.
But advocates aren’t buying it. The Delaware Cannabis Policy Coalition said in a press release on Thursday that the companies opposing HB 150 are “simply obstructing the progress of adult-use legislation” and, in response, “some patients are now staging a boycott of the regulated dispensaries.”
“This market belongs to the long-time consumers, patients, and activists,” Zoë Patchell, executive director of Delaware CAN, said. “We create the demand, we’ve been the ones driving the reform efforts, and we pay the prices at dispensaries. Cannabis is more than a market—cannabis is a community.”
“These companies cannot reasonably fathom that we are going to purchase cannabis from any entity that has proven to put profits over patients,” she said. “And now they seem willing to put consumers’ lives and freedom at risk just to hold out for an unfair advantage in the industry.”
During last month’s committee hearing, David White of Fresh Delaware said the legalization bill would “visit violence upon the economic well-being” of the business and would “cause us to lay off our unionized workers.”
EZY Ventures’s Jennifer Stark added that “HB 150 would just crush Delaware’s medical program and our nearly 10,000 patients,” and she said a “possible solution” would be to give existing medical cannabis dispensaries priority licensing, like the bill would provide to microbusinesses and social equity applicants.
Watch representatives of Delaware medical cannabis companies express concerns about the marijuana legalization bill at the following timestamps below… Sharice Ward of Columbia Care at 2:10:51, David White of Fresh Delaware at 2:15:37, Jennifer Stark of Ezy Venture at 2:46:19, Ed Miller of Fresh Cannabis at 3:10:40 and Aaron Epstein of CannTech at 3:14:56:
Sharice Ward of Columbia Care similarly said that the legislation “will deal a crushing blow to Delaware’s medical marijuana program if enacted as proposed.”
“Multiple factors such as costs, administrative burden for card holders as well as the potential for oversupply will turn Delaware’s focus to the rapid increase of adult use-only clientele,” she said. “This will have obvious negative impacts on nearly the 10,000 patients that put their trust in the medical program.”
That’s simply not how advocates see it, and they argue that enacting the reform will expand access and prevent the ongoing criminalization of people over cannabis.
“It’s despicable that these companies, which already profit from patients and our advocacy, would fight against our all-volunteer efforts to fully legalize cannabis—especially while so many patients continue to suffer, and arrests for simple cannabis possession actually continue in the state,” Laura Sharer, executive director of Delaware NORML, said.
In a joint statement issued to Marijuana Moment through a PR firm, all four of the companies said that they “would like to further clarify that we strongly support legalizing cannabis for adult use but do have some concerns with the proposed legislation in its current form.”
“As providers of medical cannabis for the state’s registered patients, we stand with advocates who want to ensure that any new program will help eliminate criminal justice disparities, usher in a new and diverse group of cannabis entrepreneurs, bring economic growth and much-needed tax revenue to our communities, and help strengthen the state’s medical cannabis program,” they said.
Their primary concerns with the legislation are related to the proposed licensing structure, the companies reiterated, adding that they will “continue to push for the passage of legalization, while advocating for improvements in the legislation that will strengthen the medical program within the new adult-use framework and accelerate the availability of adult-use cannabis to Delawareans.”
The legalization 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.
At issue for the dispensaries are provisions concerning licensing. 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. That would vastly expand the state’s marijuana market.
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.
The legislation 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.
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.
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.
This story has been updated to include comment from the medical cannabis companies that testified against the legalization proposal as drafted.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.