The sponsor of a bill that would have legalized marijuana in Delaware says even though her measure was defeated, legalization will happen.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said a tearful Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South, at the conclusion of the June 27 vote.
House Bill 110 needed 25 votes in order to pass but only received 21. Fifteen legislators voted against the bill and five legislators, including Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, were present but not voting.
Votes were nearly split across party lines, with no Sussex County representatives voting for the bill.
The bill is now defeated and no further action will be taken this session, which ends June 30.
Before the vote, Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, said he is against the bill because marijuana-impaired driving is increasing. Since 2015, when Delaware decriminalized marijuana, Smyk said more than half of Delaware's driving under the influence charges have been marijuana related.
AAA Mid-Atlantic issued a statement June 27 against legalization because it needs more scrutiny.
“From a road safety perspective, we want Delaware drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians spared the increased risk of marijuana-impaired drivers that states like Colorado and Washington are now facing,” the statements read.
The Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce also opposed the bill, saying it is not in the best interest of tourism and could change the demographic of the resort area.
“They would rather it not pass so they can remain a family vacation spot,” Smyk said.
Even in states where marijuana is legal, he said, an illegal element continues to surround it. “The black market is flourishing,” he said.
Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said constituents in her district let her know they were against legalizing marijuana.
“It's still federally prohibited,” she said. “It wasn't a good economic choice for Delaware.”
A fiscal note with the bill estimated about $2 million would have been needed for staff and costs to regulate a state marijuana industry. Costs would have increased to $2.3 million in following years, but would have been offset by the estimated $9 million to $50 million annual revenue generated by the industry, according to the fiscal note.
However, Briggs King said the effects on unborn children concerned her the most.
A recent state report from January to April showed 127 babies were born substance exposed, and half of those had been exposed to marijuana. In cases where the mother took more than one drug, Briggs King said, marijuana was present.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has said marijuana use by pregnant mothers has shown a connection with future development and hyperactivity in children. The NIH also has said more research is needed to disentangle marijuana-specific effects from other environmental factors that could be associated with a mother's marijuana use, such as an impoverished home environment or the mother's use of other drugs.
Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, said he has concerns about the use of marijuana by those who also have addictions to opioids.
“The evidence is overwhelming that this is not the proper time for the state to put a stamp on mind- altering drugs,” he said.
Schwartzkopf and Rep. Ron Gray, R-Selbyville, could not be reached before the Cape Gazette's deadline.
Local legislators oppose marijuana legalization
Sussex County representatives who voted against the bill are: Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, Richard Collins, R-Millsboro, Minority Leader Dan Short, R-Seaford, Timothy Dukes, R-Laurel, Ron Gray, R-Selbyville, Harvey Kenton, R-Milford, Steve Smyk, R-Milton, and Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville. Other no votes were from Kevin Hensley, R-Odessa, Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, Joseph Miro, R-Pike Creek, William Outten, R-Harrington, Charles Postles, R-Milford, Mike Ramone, R-Middle Run, and Lyndon Yearick, R-Dover South.
Representatives present but not voting included Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, Stephanie Bolden, D-Wilmington, William Carson, D-Smyrna, Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, and Melanie George Smith, D-Bear.