Bill that ends penalties for small amounts of marijuana heads to governor’s desk

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On Thursday, the Delaware Senate passed (13-7) HB 371 — a bill that would legalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older. The bill now heads to Gov. Carney’s desk, where its fate is uncertain.

HB 371 does not legalize or set up a regulatory framework for adult-use cannabis sales. Those provisions are addressed in separate legislation, HB 372, which is still awaiting action in the House.

The bills were separated after HB 372 failed to get the required three-fifths majority required for passage. HB 371 requires a simple majority. All Senate Republicans voted no.

Sen.Colin Bonini, R-Dover, who has indicated that he supports legalization, claimed the bill would simply enrich drug dealers. An amendment Thursday from legalization opponent, State Sen. Bryant, R-Seaford, that would delay the bill’s implementation until a test is found for impaired driving was defeated by a lopsided margin. Opponents have long argued that a reliable test is needed.

One Democrat, Bruce Ennis voted against the bill.

“Following years of advocacy, Delaware is closer than ever to finally ending the failed policy of prohibition, a move that has widespread support among Delawareans. However, with neighboring states moving forward with legalization, now is the time to get this legislation over the finish line,” said Olivia Naugle, a senior policy analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project.

It is estimated that Delaware could realize more than $40 million in annual tax revenue from the regulation and taxation of legal cannabis. Also, a poll conducted by the University of Delaware showed that 61% of Delawareans support cannabis legalization.

Opponents continue to cite issues like the effects on minors and impaired driving issues. Marijuana remains illegal for minors.

The revenue bill faces a lack of enthusiasm from Gov. Carney, who saw flaws with a previous bill. Carney could veto the bill and anger fellow Democrats or he could let it become law without signing it.

Most states that have legalized marijuana had an advisory or referendum vote from residents. Delaware has no such mechanism, allowing legislative opponents or members swayed by arguments of corporate interests to keep votes below the three-fifths threshold.

Corporate marijuana has a heavy presence in the state through its medical marijuana dispensaries and is hoping to cash in on legalization. Small medical marijuana businesses are just beginning to open stores.

So far, 18 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older. In neighboring New Jersey, adult-use cannabis sales began in April. Several other states are seeing possible approval.

The Marijuana Policy Project added the recent traffic stop of a bus carrying the Delaware State University lacrosse team to its arguments for legalization.

The team was subjected to a search of items in the luggage compartment as the team’s bus passed through Georgia, with a deputy saying that the men and their dog were looking for marijuana.

Carney and Delaware’s Congressional delegation have condemned the search, with the Georgia sheriff defending it, despite a video that contradicted some of his claims.

According to the project, data analyzed by the Stanford Open Policing Project found that in the first two legalization states — Colorado and Washington — have seen decreases in traffic searches, which are disproportionately performed on vehicles with Black or Latino drivers. The same is true for prison sentences for those possessing marijuana. The data compiled by Stanford researchers shows searches dropped by about half in Washington and Colorado since legalization.