A vote on a Delaware marijuana legalization bill that was scheduled in the House of Representatives for Thursday has been cancelled, despite attempts by the sponsor to propose amendments to reach the three-fifths supermajority support threshold needed to pass it.
Rep. Edward Osienski (D), who filed the measure, said lawmakers need more time to consider a series of proposed changes before reaching a consensus and moving forward.
“House Bill 150 is an extremely important piece of legislation with many complicated moving parts,” he told WDEL. “In recent days, a number of amendments have been filed by myself and other legislators that would make significant changes to the bill as written. Accordingly, my colleagues and I need time to consider the implications of these various amendments before bringing the bill to the House floor for a vote.”
Yesterday, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Osienski told me it was “uncertain” whether the marijuana bill had the votes. #netde
— Amy Cherry (@acherry13) June 10, 2021
“This is one piece of legislation that we have to get right,” he said. “I encourage my fellow legislators, advocates and supporters of the bill to please be patient as we continue to work toward the goal of legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use in Delaware.”
Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, said advocates are “hopeful that lawmakers will be able to come to an agreement on the details and bring HB 150 to a floor vote as soon as possible.”
The legislation could be rescheduled for consideration as soon as next week.
In an apparent effort to build buy-in among legislators, Osienski introduced several amendments on Tuesday, including some that would gut key social equity provisions. One proposed revision would eliminate language to establish a fund to provide financial assistance to equity businesses.
Instead, regulators would simply have “authority to investigate opportunities for financial assistances that can be offered to social equity applicants,” but there’s no guarantee that would happen if they’re not mandated by the legislature to do so as under the original language.
Sources familiar with Osienski’s thinking told Marijuana Moment change is aimed at circumventing the need for an even greater supermajority vote of three-fourths for legislation that appropriates money. While the provision as introduced didn’t actually allocate any dollars, there was concern in the legislature that creation of the fund could trigger the bigger threshold and sink the bill.
The definition of a social equity applicant also would be changed under a separate amendment from Osienski, making it so that having a prior cannabis conviction, or being related to someone who has, would no longer qualify a person for the benefits.
Some advocates strongly oppose watering down the equity language, but it seems the sponsor made some of the concessions to try to reach the existing supermajority vote needed to pass the legislation out of the chamber and on to the Senate.
Even if the legislature does move forward and approve it, the bill is expected to face another challenge: Gov. John Carney (D), who again called legalization a “bad idea” this week and declined to say what action he would take if a reform proposal was sent to his desk.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D), who has previously abstained from voting on legalization legislation in an earlier session, also said on Tuesday that he has “no sense” about the bill’s prospects of passage in the chamber and raised concerns about the implications of legalization on the jobs market.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf says he has "no sense" over whether the recreational marijuana bill on the agenda for Thursday will pass. He has concerns, saying it will cause a problem in the jobs/labor market. #netDE
— Amy Cherry (@acherry13) June 8, 2021
Osienski’s legislation 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, last week, it moved through the House Appropriations Committee.
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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.
A legalization bill previously received majority support on the House floor in 2018, but it failed to receive the supermajority needed to pass.
Carney, for his part, 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.”
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 that was originally set 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.
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.