A pair of bills to legalize and regulate marijuana in Delaware have officially been sent to the governor’s desk, meaning he will need to act on them before the end of the month.
While the legislature passed both measures with sizable support last month, advocates remain concerned that Gov. John Carney (D) may again veto the reform as he did last session. He’s avoided commenting on his intentions for the legislation so far this round other than to say he remains concerned about the impact of the reform on impaired driving.
But the clock is now ticking. His office received the simple legalization bill, HB 1, on Tuesday. The complementary proposal to set up regulations for an adult-use market, HB 2, was sent to his desk on Friday.
Under the state Constitution, the governor has 10 days (excluding Sundays) to either sign, veto or allow the measures to take effect without his signature. For HB 1, that deadline is April 22. Carney must action on HB 2 by April 26.
“We have been on a long, multi-year journey with the Marijuana Control Act. We have had countless hearings, debates, stakeholder engagement and deliberations,” Rep. Ed Osienski (D), sponsor of the bills, said in a press release on Friday. “We have incorporated numerous suggestions and changes from interested parties—including the governor’s office—throughout this process to arrive at what I believe is the best possible plan for legalizing and regulating adult recreational marijuana.”
“I am hopeful that the governor will take all of this into account as he considers these bills and that he will acknowledge the desires of an overwhelming majority of Delaware residents,” he said.
After the bills passed in the legislature, a spokesperson for the governor told Marijuana Moment that Carney “continues to have strong concerns about the unintended consequences of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in our state, especially about the impacts on our young people and highway safety.”
“He knows others have honest disagreements on this issue,” the communications director said. “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.”
The governor himself dodged a question about his stance on the bills but said he is “concerned mostly about unintended consequences of legalization, including highway safety.”
While the House didn’t have the votes to override Carney last year, both the simple legalization bill and the sales regulation measure cleared both chambers this round with more than enough support to override any potential veto.
Osienski took a similar, bifurcated approach for the reform last session and saw the legislature pass the basic legalization proposal while narrowly defeating the regulatory measure.
The lawmaker recently said that if the governor seeks to veto the legislation again this time, he’s “optimistic” and feels “pretty good” that they have the votes for an override.
“I think my colleagues are saying, ‘OK, you know, you had one shot at vetoing this, you did and you were successful, but don’t count on us supporting that veto again,’” he said.
Here’s what the HB 1 legalization bill would accomplish:
State statute would be revised to legalize the possession, use, sharing and purchasing of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older.
To avoid abuses of the “gifting” provision, the bill stipulates that “adult sharing” would not include giving away cannabis “contemporaneously with another reciprocal transaction between the same parties” such as an exchange of a non-marijuana item.
Public consumption and growing cannabis would remain prohibited.
People under 21 who engage in such activity would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $100 for a first offense. Police could use discretion and issue a citation in lieu of that fine, however.
Here’s an overview of the key provisions of the HB 2 regulatory bill:
The legislation would provide a basic framework to create a regulated system of cannabis commerce for adults in the state.
The Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement (DATE) would be responsible for regulating the market through a new Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner.
For the first 16 months of implementation, regulators could approve up to 30 cannabis retail licenses.
Applicants who show that they’d provide a living wage, health insurance coverage, sick and paid leave and focus on diversity in hiring would be prioritized in the licensing scoring process.
Seven percent of marijuana business fee revenue would go to a “Justice Reinvestment Fund” that supports restorative justice, workforce development, technical assistance for economically disadvantaged people and more.
That fund would also go toward “creating or developing technology to assist with the restoration of civil rights and expungement of criminal records.” However, the legislation itself doesn’t provide for automatic expungements.
In additional to conventional retail, cultivator, manufacturer and laboratory licenses, the bill would additional provide for social equity and microbusiness licenses (reserved for applicants with majority ownership by Delaware residents).
Localities would be able to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their area through ordinance.
Adult-use marijuana sales would be subject to a 15 percent sales tax. Medical cannabis products would not be taxed.
The Senate separately approved a resolution last month that urges the state’s congressional representatives to support legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.
Also, in October, Carney vetoed a more narrowly tailored bill that would have clarified that medical marijuana patients are not prohibited from buying, possessing or transferring firearms under state law
A strong majority of Delaware voters support legalizing marijuana—including nearly three in four Democrats who back the reform that the state’s Democratic governor vetoed last year, according to a poll released that month. (Full Story)