House committee approves legalization of marijuana

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The Delaware House Revenue and Finance Committee approved a bill to legalize marijuana by a lopsided 9-2 vote.

HB 110 now goes to the full House.

The vote came despite intense opposition from a coalition led by Wilmington-based AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“AAA urges more research about impairment by cannabis/marijuana and the development of valid and effective ways to determine impairment levels, specifically for driving while impaired by marijuana.

A lag in gathering and reporting baseline data in states that have legalized the drug makes good statistical analysis a challenge right now,” AAA Mid-Atlantic Vice President Cathy Rossi stated in a committee hearing “Before we legalize recreational marijuana, we also need more research on the impact of Delaware’s existing medical marijuana and marijuana decriminalization laws as well as the traffic safety and societal costs incurred by other states who have passed recreational marijuana laws.”

Other critics have pointed to the possibility of Delaware becoming a destination for marijuana users, a situation that would present enforcement challenges. No states around Delaware have legalized marijuana.

Delaware has experience in dispensing medical marijuana, but unlike many states has only one dispensary. Delays have led to no dispensaries outside of New Castle County. Possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized, with those caught given the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

Click here for other stories on marijuana and Delaware.

“There is strong public support for ending marijuana prohibition in Delaware, and that was reflected in the committee vote,” said Maggie Ellinger-Locke, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Most Americans now recognize that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and they think it is time for it to be treated that way. We hope the full House will follow the committee’s lead and approve HB 110.”

More than 60 percent of Delaware voters support making marijuana legal, according toa September 2016 pollby the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication. Unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate State Sen. Colin Bonini, one of the more conservative members of that body, has called for legalization.

Gov. John Carney has not taken a position on the issue. Bonini’s support makes Senate passage more likely. Democrats hold a one-vote edge in that body.

The bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, including no more than five grams of marijuana concentrate.

It would direct the Division of Marijuana Control and Enforcement, an entity overseen by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, to enforce regulations on marijuana cultivators, product manufacturers, testing laboratories, and retail establishments, and localities would be authorized to ban or limit the number of marijuana businesses within their jurisdictions. Home cultivation of marijuana would not be permitted.

“Current prohibition laws have failed, and Delaware deserves a more sensible marijuana policy,” said Ellinger-Locke. “The proposed law would take marijuana out of the criminal market, control production and sales, and have the added bonus of generating significant tax revenue. Several states have adopted similar laws, and they are demonstrating that regulating marijuana works.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Vermont Legislature gave final approval to a bill that would eliminate penalties for personal marijuana possession and cultivation by adults 21 and older and establish a study commission to develop legislation to regulate and tax marijuana for adult use. If Gov. Phil Scott signs the bill or allows it to become law without his signature, Vermont will be the first state to make marijuana legal for adults through a legislative body, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

Eight states have enacted laws regulating marijuana for adult use through referenda.

Nearly two dozen states are now weighing the issue of legalization.

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