A second Delaware House committee has approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the state, clearing its way to a floor vote.
The House Appropriations Committee passed the legislation from Rep. Ed Osienski (D) on Thursday. No members voted in favor or against the proposal, and instead agreed unanimously to move it forward “on its merits.”
This comes about a month after the House Health and Human Development Committee approved the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, including up to five grams of cannabis concentrates.
Home cultivation and marijuana delivery services would be prohibited, however.
A marijuana commissioner under the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement would regulate the industry and oversee licensing of retailers, cultivators, manufacturers and laboratories. Licenses would be granted through a scored, competitive process, with advantages given to those who pay workers a living wage, provide health insurance or meet certain other benchmarks.
It’s not yet clear when a House floor vote will be scheduled.
The bill from Osienski cleared committee last year, too. However, disagreements over social equity provisions stalled the earlier version, keeping it from the floor. At the time, Osienski pledged to bring a revised bill for the 2022 session that could earn broad enough support to pass.
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There are equity components included in this measure. After 19 months of the bill’s enactment, for example, regulators would have to approve 30 retailer licenses, half of which would go to social equity applicants. Social equity applicants are defined as entities majority-owned by people with past cannabis convictions or who live in an area disproportionately impacted by the drug war.
Those applications would also be allotted one-third of the planned 60 cultivation licenses, one-third of manufacturing licenses and two of five licenses for testing laboratories. They could also qualify for reduced application and licensing fees as well as technical assistance from the state.
Retail marijuana sales would be subject to a 15 percent tax. No tax would be levied on medical cannabis sales.
Seven percent of the tax revenue would be used to support a new Justice Reinvestment Fund that would provide grants, services and other initiatives that focus on issues such as jail diversion, workforce development and technical assistance for people in communities that are economically disadvantaged and disproportionately impacted by the drug war. The money would also be used to help facilitate expungements.
When Osienski’s earlier bill was being considered last year, a similar equity fund provision was included, and the sponsor said he was caught off guard when he was informed that its inclusion meant the bill would require 75 percent of legislators in the chamber to approve it.
The lawmaker tried to address the problem through an amendment, but some members of the Black Caucus opposed the changes, and the measure failed.
The current bill will still require a supermajority threshold to pass, but a smaller one of 60 percent.
Osienski has worked with the Black Caucus in the ensuing months to build support and move toward more passable legislation. And a clear sign of the progress is that Reps. Rae Moore (D) and Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D) have already signed on as cosponsors to the new bill after pulling their support for the 2021 version over equity concerns.
In 2019, Osienski was the chief sponsor of a legalization bill that cleared a House committee but did not advance through the full chamber. That bill would have allowed medical cannabis dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to adults 21 and older while the rest of the adult-use industry was still preparing to launch, a provision that was removed from later versions.
Four of the state’s six medical marijuana companies came out publicly against that change and testified in opposition to last year’s bill. In response, Delaware activists mounted a boycott against those operators.
Several modest amendments that were filed when last year’s bill was being considered have been incorporated into the new measure. Those include provisions related to quality control standardization, accreditation for marijuana testing facilities and packaging and labeling requirements.
Portions of the bill on expungements were also removed, as they were made redundant by the enactment of separate legislation last year.
Individual municipalities would be able to establish their own regulations for marijuana business operating times and locations, and they would also be able to ban cannabis companies altogether from their jurisdiction.
As supportive lawmakers work to push the bill through the legislature, they also face the challenge of winning over Gov. John Carney (D), one of the rare Democratic governors who remain opposed to legalization.
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.
A legalization bill previously received majority support on the House floor in 2018, but it failed to receive the supermajority needed to pass.
Carney’s predecessor approved a measure to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis in 2015.
An analysis from State Auditor Kathy McGuiness (D) released last year 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.
Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.