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The cannabis legalization debate in Delaware highlights the two-step forward, one-step-back marathon that is the fight to legalize
by Dessy Pavlova · July 04, 2022
One week after lawmakers in Delaware voted in favor of decriminalizing cannabis possession, a new bill that would legalize and regulate its sale failed to pass the House of Representatives. The bill got a majority of votes in support but failed to meet the three-fifths supermajority needed to pass.
The bill that passed the Delaware House of Representatives, HB 371, legalizes the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use, but it does little else for social equity causes. The bill that failed to pass the Delaware chamber, HB 372, would not only have created a commercial cannabis industry in the state and a new source of revenue but could have potentially repaired or at least begun repairing some of the damage the drug war has inflicted on society.
According to the bill, a marijuana commissioner would be appointed under the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement to oversee licensing to retailers and producers. Of the 30 licenses available, half would be allotted to social equity applicants–people with cannabis records and businesses in communities disproportionately affected by drug prohibition. A portion of tax revenue from the newly legalized industry would go to a Justice Reinvestment Fund that would tackle issues like imprisonment and the expungement of marijuana records.
As opposed to legalization frameworks in other states, Delawareans wouldn’t be allowed to grow their own cannabis at home, but sponsors of the bill argue that a legal cannabis retail industry would still put a dent in the illicit market and create new jobs for people in the state. With states like New Mexico capitalizing on legalization so quickly, there may be opportunities for growth that other states don’t realize. An analysis by the state auditor suggests that a legal cannabis market in Delaware could generate over $40 million annually in revenue and 1000 jobs over the first five years.
The lead sponsor of the bill, Democrat Rep. Ed Osienski, is no stranger to meeting tough resistance to bills that legalize cannabis. Osienski was the chief sponsor of a legalization bill in 2019 that similarly did not pass the House. But objections by lawmakers on the other side of the political aisle are to be expected; an unfamiliar question will be whether Gov. John Carney, a rare Democratic opposed to cannabis legalization, actually signs the cannabis bills that reach his desk.
While Carney states that he does not believe cannabis use should be a criminal offense, he is still wary about bringing cannabis into the legal market. Carney cites public safety and cannabis’ effect on youth as reasons for his hesitation, which means there was no guarantee that HB 372 would have become law even if it did pass the House of Representatives.
While cannabis legalization efforts have undoubtedly made progress and have gained momentum in recent years, examples like Delaware highlight how the movement still faces significant resistance. More education and research are required to put to rest the persisting fears associated with bringing cannabis into the mainstream.