Marijuana legalization bill would open door to small businesses getting shot at sales

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(See online copy of legislation at bottom of story)

A marijuana legalization bill aimed at placing limits on “corporate weed” sellers has been introduced.

Other states have wrestled with the issue of big companies dominating the market and leaving no opportunities for small businesses.

Delaware has seen medical marijuana giants like nationwide operator Columbia Care move into the state’s market via medical marijuana “compassion centers.”

There has also been criticism over medical marijuana providers have shunned urban areas and the overall process for picking dispensaries and growing operations.

Criticism over the process of picking medical marijuana growers

The license for the first medical marijuana “compassion center” was issued to a former Delaware state trooper, lobbyist, and one-time area director for U.S. Sen. Tom Carper.

Chief House sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski said the legislation also is aimed at shutting down the illegal market in Delaware.

“Support for adult recreational marijuana has been growing for years in Delaware and across the country. We have seen other states successfully enact policies that established a safe and legal market for cannabis, and we have studied those laws to craft the best policy for Delaware,” said Rep. Osienski, D-Brookside. “We believe we have a solid bill that has the support of the public, and we believe we have the political will to pass this bill into law.

Well-financed opposition

If past patterns continue, the bill will run into well-financed opposition from segments of the medical community, law enforcement, and AAA Mid-Atlantic. The state’s medical marijuana growers and sellers could also enter the fray since the bill will limit their presence in the early going.

Additionally, Gov. John Carney has not backed legalization legislation. The General Assembly also has members with law enforcement backgrounds, including the Speaker of the House. The bill comes with no Republican co-sponsors. A couple of crossover votes might be needed from the minority party.

Opponents will cite early studies that marijuana affects teens’ mental development and issues related to driving under the influence of the drug, and difficulties in detecting its presence in rapid tests.

Backers of the bill may point to early studies indicating that legalized marijuana has lowered the rate of abuse of harder drugs.

Research on marijuana has been severely limited over the years, due to bans on looking into the qualities of certain drugs.

HB 150 would allow adults 21 and older to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana from a licensed retail marijuana store.

Up to 30 retail licenses

Under the bill, the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement (DATE) would absorb marijuana enforcement and create a separate, administrative Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

The legislation would allow for up to 30 retail licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill’s effective date.

It also would establish a competitive licensing process through the Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner using a scoring system that rewards applicants for paying a living wage, providing employer-paid health insurance, providing a defined benefit pension plan, providing sick and paid leave to workers, hiring more full-time workers, focusing on the diversity of the workforce, and other factors.

A weed tax

The measure would establish a marijuana control enforcement fee assessed at the point of sale, set at 15 percent to compete with other states, and keep prices competitive with existing street values in an effort to limit the illegal market.

“The time has come for us to replace an illegal market that has overwhelmed our court system and damaged lives with a legal, regulated, and responsible industry that will create thousands of good-paying jobs in Delaware,” said Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, HB 150’s chief Senate sponsor. “We have seen the benefits of a thriving legal cannabis industry in 15 other states. We have had time to study what works and what does not. This legislation is sound economic policy, strong social justice reform, and a job creator that we absolutely should pass this year.”

HB 150 would create new license pools for Social Equity and Microbusiness applicants. The new Social Equity Applicant pool would be limited to those who either live in a disproportionately affected area or have either been convicted of a marijuana-related offense (barring selling to a minor) or are the child of a person convicted of a marijuana-related offense. These applicants would have access to technical assistance programs, reduced fees, an adjusted points scale, a waiver of the physical location requirement, and access to a revolving Social Equity Loan fund.

Microbusiness applicants

The new Microbusiness Applicant pool would be limited to applicants with majority ownership held by residents. Though higher than Social Equity applicants, these applicants would have reduced fees and an adjusted points scale. These applicants would have access to Cultivation and Product Manufacturing Licenses. More retail and cultivation licenses have been added to the previous version’s totals to accommodate the new license pools.

Unlike its predecessor from the 150th General Assembly, HB 150 would no longer allow marijuana compassion centers to sell recreational marijuana during the transition period before the opening of recreational licensed retail.

The measure also allows for the expungement of all prior marijuana-related offenses, provided the individual has no convictions for violent felonies.

Public support for recreational weed has grown. A University of Delaware poll in 2018 indicated that 61 percent of Delaware voters support legalizing marijuana.

Currently, recreational marijuana use is permitted in 14 states and the District of Columbia. New Jersey and Virginia’s legislatures recently passed legalization bills, and Maryland’s General Assembly is considering a similar measure.

The bill allows municipalities to prohibit the operation of marijuana facilities within their borders through local ordinances that are not in conflict with municipal regulations enacted under this law.

HB 150 would not change existing state law regarding driving under the influence of an illicit or recreational drug. It also would not allow individuals to grow their own plants. Public consumption of marijuana would still not be permitted.

Employer enforcement largely would not change. Employers would be permitted to drug test workers for marijuana to ensure any zero-tolerance policies are being followed. They also would be able to discipline workers for being under the influence at work and prohibit the consumption of marijuana at work.

HB 150 has been assigned to the House Health & Human Development Committee, and it will be heard in committee on March 24.

Click to access HB150.pdf

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