Recreational marijuana legal in Delaware for adults

Industry regulation bill to become law Thursday
April 21, 2023

After six years of work by legislators and weed proponents, legalized marijuana came to Delaware April 23 after administrative inaction.

Gov. John Carney deliberately did nothing after taking possession of the bill, ending marijuana prohibition and allowing adults to possess up to one ounce of the formerly illegal substance.

Carney had 10 days excluding Sundays to sign or veto the bill after taking possession of it, but instead chose a third option of doing nothing, which allowed the bill to become law.

“I want to be clear that my views on this issue have not changed,” Carney wrote in a press release sent out April 21, the day before the deadline to take action. “I understand there are those who share my views who will be disappointed in my decision not to veto this legislation. I came to this decision because I believe we’ve spent far too much time focused on this issue, when Delawareans face more serious and pressing concerns every day. It’s time to move on.”

Last year, Carney vetoed a similar bill to legalize marijuana, and the House failed to override the veto with the necessary three-fifths vote. A bill to create a marijuana industry also failed to pass the House last year. This year’s Marijuana Control Act passed through a supermajority of the General Assembly and will become law April 27 after Carney said he will do nothing to prevent or support it.

“These two pieces of legislation remove all state-level civil and criminal penalties from simple marijuana possession and create a highly regulated industry to conduct recreational marijuana sales in Delaware,” he said. “As I’ve consistently said, I believe the legalization of recreational marijuana is not a step forward.”

While Carney said he supports both medical marijuana and Delaware’s decriminalization law that keeps people out of jail for possessing personal-use amounts of marijuana, he believes a recreational marijuana industry, even if regulated, will have negative consequences for the state.

“I’m concerned especially about the potential effects on Delaware’s children, on the safety of our roadways and on our poorest neighborhoods, where I believe a legal marijuana industry will have a disproportionately negative impact,” he said. “Those concerns are why I could not put my signature to either House Bill 1 or House Bill 2.”

The marijuana legalization law allows anyone 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana legally, but it prohibits public consumption, allows businesses to drug test employees and have rules against its use, and continues to penalize drivers for operating vehicles under the influence of marijuana. Under the new law, possession of marijuana no longer prohibits a person from possessing a handgun.

The Marijuana Control Act will create a framework to tax and place fees on a marijuana industry, which includes funding a Justice Reinvestment Fund, under the management of the Department of Justice. The fund will be used for projects in communities that have been most impacted by the prohibition of marijuana and war on drugs era policies. It includes 60 licenses for marijuana sales to be issued in the first year, with 20 of them reserved for social equity applicants.

Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, took over the push for legalization and regulation from former legislator Helene Keeley, whose initial attempt in 2017 failed in the House.

"After five years of countless meetings, debates, negotiations and conversations, I'm grateful we have reached the point where Delaware has joined a growing number of states that have legalized and regulated adult recreational marijuana for personal use,” Osienski said in a press release sent following Carney’s decision. 

Osienski said he is committed to working with Carney’s administration so that marijuana regulation in Delaware is a success.

"I understand the governor's personal opposition to legalization, so I especially appreciate him listening to the thousands of residents who support this effort and allowing it to become law,” Osiesnki said. “We've reached the mountaintop, and it feels great to finally get there. I hope everyone enjoys the moment." 

Carney said with marijuana legalization now law, legislators can move on to other issues.

“I also do not believe prolonging debate on this issue best serves Delawareans,” he said. “Delaware families want great schools for their kids. They want good jobs and affordable, safe communities free of crime. And they expect — rightly so — that we’ll spend taxpayer dollars in a way that’s both responsible and sustainable. That’s where we should focus our time and energy in the weeks and months ahead.”

Carney said the state will do everything in its power to protect children from accessing marijuana and marijuana-related products; prevent Delawareans and Delaware visitors from driving under the influence of marijuana; and closely evaluate the placement of marijuana dispensaries and other businesses to ensure they do not become a blight on already disadvantaged communities.

“My goal will be to ensure that Delaware has a robust regulatory system that protects the interests of the most vulnerable Delawareans, to avoid the many challenges we’ve seen in other states, and to get back to focusing on issues that are most important for Delaware families,” he said.


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