The state Senate finished passage of two marijuana bills March 28, moving the legislation to Gov. John Carney’s desk, where the future for legalized marijuana in Delaware remains unclear.
Carney’s veto of legalizing marijuana last year doomed the bill when the House could not get the super majority needed to override the bill. A bill to regulate a marijuana industry finally received a super majority vote March 9 in the House after failing to gain the necessary votes last session.
House Bill 1, the legalization bill, passed the Senate by a 16-4 vote with one absent, and House Bill 2, the regulation bill, passed 15-5 with one absent, more than the minimum 13 votes needed to pass the bill because of the fees attached to it.
Sen. Russ Huxtable, D-Lewes, voted in favor of both bills.
The bills now move to Carney’s desk, where he could sign them, veto them or do nothing and let them become law. Last year, his veto of the marijuana legalization bill failed to get a supermajority override in the House, and the bill died.
Emily Hershman, spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office, said Carney continues to have strong concerns about the unintended consequences of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, especially about the impacts on young people and highway safety.
“He knows others have honest disagreements on this issue. But we don’t have anything new to share today about how the governor will act on HB 1 and HB 2 if they reach his desk,” she said.
Before voting for the legalization bill, Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Camden, said he supports it, but passage will change the plea bargain process that the Department of Justice currently offers. Taking out the lesser charges will result in harsher charges, which will not be able to be pleaded down. “That will be a byproduct of this legislation,” he said.
As for the belief that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads users to harsher substances, Buckson said, officials instead should be looking at drugs regularly prescribed to children.
“If you really want to get after gateway drugs, let’s take a look at Adderall and Ritalin and those drugs,” he said.
Two amendments put forward by Buckson were voted down, one that takes out a labor peace agreement in the bill, and another that provides for political balance on the Delaware Marijuana Control Act Oversight Committee and the Appeals Commission created by the legislation.
After Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, said the political balance bill is unfriendly, Minority Leader Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, said he does not believe it is unfriendly at all to require political balance on a state committee. “Most pieces of legislation that I’ve seen passed here that have any kind of commission at all do have equal balance with both political parties,” he said.
Legalization and regulation bills
House Bill 1, the marijuana legalization bill, allows anyone 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana legally. Sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, the bill prohibits public consumption, allows businesses to drug test employees and have rules against its use, and continues to penalize driver’s for operating vehicles under the influence of marijuana. The bill does, however, remove possession of marijuana from the list of activities that prohibits a person from possessing a handgun.
The regulation bill, also sponsored by Osienski, 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.