Marijuana bill moves out of committee

Sponsor aims to eliminate black market with legalization
January 26, 2022

The latest version of a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in Delaware was moved out of committee Jan. 26.

House Bill 305, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, would create a legal framework to regulate the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana, provide opportunities for small businesses to be licensed, and ensure people living in areas disproportionately affected by the prohibition of marijuana have equal access to this new market. Under the bill, officials said, marijuana would be taxed the same as alcohol, but would have a 15% marijuana control enforcement fee assessed at point of sale.

"Today, we heard from numerous members of the public – advocates, veterans, retired law enforcement officers, educators and even faith leaders – who overwhelmingly testified in favor of legalizing adult recreational marijuana. These residents know what 18 other states already know: legalizing cannabis will create good-paying jobs for Delawareans while striking a blow against the illegal marijuana market," said Rep. Ed Osienski, lead sponsor of HB 305. "Delaware is more than capable of successfully enacting policies for safe and legal cannabis. I'm grateful to the committee for releasing this bill and look forward to taking the next important steps forward."

HB 305 is the latest revision of a bill that was ready for action by the full House in 2021 but was pulled over concerns about a social equity fund that had been included in the bill. Instead, the substitute bill includes a Justice Reinvestment Fund supported with 7% of marijuana tax revenue. The proposed fund would be administered by the Department of Justice and used to facilitate grants, contracts, services, or initiatives that focus on:

  •   Restorative justice, jail diversion, workforce development, industry-specific technical assistance or mentoring services for economically disadvantaged persons in disproportionately impacted areas
  •   Addressing the underlying causes of crime, reducing drug-related arrests, and reducing the prison population in the state
  •   Creating or developing technology to assist with restoration of civil rights and expungement of criminal records.

HB 305 would also create new license pools for social equity and microbusiness applicants. The new social equity applicant pool would be limited to those who live in a disproportionately affected area, or have been convicted of a marijuana-related offense (barring selling to a minor), or are the child of a person convicted of a marijuana-related offense. These applicants would have access to technical assistance programs, reduced fees, an adjusted points scale, and a waiver of the physical location requirement.

The legislation would allow for up to 30 retail licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill's effective date. It also would establish a competitive licensing process through the Office of the Marijuana Control Commissioner using a scoring system that rewards applicants for paying a living wage, providing employer-paid health insurance, providing a defined-benefit pension plan, providing sick and paid leave to workers, hiring more full-time workers, focusing on workforce diversity, and other factors.

A new microbusiness applicant pool would be limited to applicants with majority ownership held by Delaware residents. These applicants would have reduced fees, though higher than social equity applicants, and an adjusted points scale. These applicants would have access to cultivation and product manufacturing licenses. To accommodate the new license pools, more retail and cultivation licenses have been added to the previous version's totals.

The bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana from a licensed retail marijuana store. Under the bill, the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement would absorb marijuana enforcement and create a separate, administrative Office of the Marijuana Control Commissioner within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

The bill allows municipalities to prohibit the operation of marijuana facilities within their borders through local ordinances that are not in conflict with municipal regulations enacted under this law. It would not change existing state law regarding driving under the influence of an illicit or recreational drug. It also would not allow individuals to grow their own plants. Public consumption of marijuana would still not be permitted.

Employer enforcement largely would not change. Employers would be permitted to drug-test workers for marijuana to ensure any zero-tolerance policies are being followed. They also would be able to discipline workers for being under the influence at work, as well as prohibit the consumption of marijuana at work.

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