Marijuana legalization passes the House, again

Regulation companion bill receives supermajority support
March 9, 2023

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the March 9 vote in favor of a bill to regulate the marijuana industry in Delaware. 

For the second time in less than a year, a bill to legalize marijuana in Delaware passed the House. It now heads to the Senate.

“It’s like déjà vu with this bill,” said Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, prime sponsor of House Bill 1, his latest attempt to legalize marijuana, which he’s been working on since 2018.

The bill allowing anyone 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana legally passed the House March 7 by a 28-13 vote, a higher margin than the 26-14 vote taken in 2022. 

Three upstate Republicans voted yes, along with Rep. Stell Parker Selby, D-Milton, who won the seat formerly held by Republican Steve Smyk.

Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, voted no along with the contingent of Sussex County Republicans.

Last session, the legalization bill passed both the House and Senate before it was vetoed by Gov. John Carney. Carney has been a steadfast opponent of legalizing marijuana.

The House attempted to override Carney’s veto in June 2022, but came up short of the 25 supermajority votes needed. 

Osienski reviewed the benefits of his bill that includes erasing more than 12,000 civil penalties on the books related to marijuana use.

“This is going to free up a lot of time in our courts and law enforcement,” he said.

Still, Rep. Jeff Hilovsky, R-Millsboro, questioned the number of people who may end up driving under the influence.

“I think it’s a public safety issue for all of us,” he said.

Osienski said police are able to determine driving under the influence on roadways, and more police are expected to become drug recognition experts, he said.

“This is not a brand-new substance here. It has existed for years,” Osienski said.

Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, said he finds it ironic that people who oppose smoking tobacco and vaping are on board with smoking marijuana.

“I frankly haven’t heard anybody say we should start smoking cigarettes again,” he said. “In recent years, with the level of passion against smoking and vaping, how is it that we then turn around with the same passion and embrace marijuana? I’m befuddled.” 

Regulation bill receives supermajority

HB 1 is part of a two-pronged effort to legalize and regulate adult recreational marijuana in Delaware. House Bill 2creating a regulated marijuana industry in Delaware, captured a supermajority vote in the House March 9, a feat that has eluded the bill twice before. The bill passed by a 27-13 vote and now heads to the Senate.

Also sponsored by Osienski, the bill creates 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, where it will be used for projects to improve quality of life for communities most impacted by the prohibition of marijuana and ‘war on drugs’ era policies.” 

The bill also allows for 60 licenses to be issued in the first year, with 20 of them reserved for social equity applicants.

Two amendments were passed with the bill – the second amendment at the request of the Office of the Governor, a shift from previous bills that failed.

Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said she cannot support the bill even though she knows “votes are there to pass this.” She then questioned the timeline for when it would go into effect.

House attorney Karen Lance said the act becomes effective either when the bill becomes law, or when the funds are available for implementation. Generally, she said, a regulation takes six months to a year to go into effect.

A fiscal note shows about $2 million in one-time money and $2.2 million from the general fund for fiscal year 2024. By fiscal years 2025 and 2026, the general fund contribution drops to about $1.2 million with less than $200,000 in special fund appropriation.

Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, and Rep. Stell Parker Selby, D-Milton, both voted in favor of HB 2.

“You tried to work with everyone … and congratulations,” Schwartzkopf said.  


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