A bill to legalize marijuana in Delaware is set for a House floor vote on Thursday after advancing out of another committee late last week.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Edward Osienski (D), would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis. Home cultivation would not be permitted, however.
The proposal cleared its first committee in March and then, on Friday, it moved through the House Appropriations Committee. But while advocates are encouraged by its progress, it’s also the case that the state’s Democratic governor remains opposed to adult-use legalization.
HB 150 would set a 15 percent sales tax on marijuana sales, with revenue covering the administrative costs of the adult-use program. The legislature would then decide how the remaining tax dollars should be appropriated.
The Delaware Marijuana Control Act Oversight Committee would be established to regulate the market and issue business licenses.
Regulators would be able to approve up to 30 retail business licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and five laboratory testing licenses for the first 16 months of implementation.
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“We applaud members of the House Appropriations Committee for clearing HB 150 for a vote by the full House of Representatives,” Olivia Naugle, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “A strong majority of Delawareans support legalization, and we hope that the House of Representatives will listen to their constituents and approve HB 150 later this week.”
While the bill contains social equity business licensing provisions, the definition of who qualifies for that is at risk of being scaled back under a proposed amendment that would remove having been convicted of a marijuana-related offense or being related to someone with such a conviction as a criterion.
Among other changes, the amendment, filed by Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman (R), would also remove the creation of a fund to provide financial aid—low-interest loans and grants—for social equity businesses. Taken together, those proposed changes are eliciting strong pushback from reform advocates.
Naugle said MPP opposes the potential changes.
“This amendment would gut the critical social equity components of HB 150. Cannabis prohibition has caused tremendous harm—disproportionately in communities of color,” she said. “To ensure cannabis is legalized equitably in Delaware and is focused on the communities most impacted by the war on cannabis, HA 3 must be rejected.”
Two other amendments concerning accreditation for cannabis testing facilities have also been filed.
In order to be enacted, the legislation will need a supermajority of 25 House votes this week and would then need to similarly clear the Senate. But those aren’t the only obstacles the proposal faces: Gov. John Carney (D) is a rare type of Democratic governor who remains opposed to recreational cannabis legalization, and he reiterated that position just last month.
“We spend all this time and money to get people to stop smoking cigarettes and now we want to say it’s okay to just smoke marijuana recreationally,” Carney said. “Look, I don’t want to sound like a prude about it, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
He declined to say whether he would sign or veto the bill, but called it a “bad idea.”
A legalization bill previously received majority support on the House floor in 2018, but it failed to receive the supermajority needed to pass.
Despite his wariness about adult-use legalization, 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.
The legislation up for floor action on Thursday has proved contentious in a different kind of way, as well.
In April, activists in the state mounted a boycott against four medical cannabis operators after representatives of those companies testified in opposition to the adult-use legalization bill during its March committee hearing.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.