Deep disappointment among marijuana legalization backers after Carney veto

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Gov. John Carney’s veto HB 371 drew expressions of deep disappointment from a coalition of marijuana legalization backers.

Carney cited long-running arguments about the effects of expanding recreational marijuana use in his veto message.

“It is a true injustice that Gov. Carney has chosen to veto HB 371. This important legislation would dramatically reduce the number of police interactions, searches, and citations for cannabis possession in Delaware. We know cannabis laws are unequally enforced, and it is Black Delawareans who are disproportionately stopped, searched, and penalized for cannabis or for the supposed smell of cannabis. After condemning the traumatic search of the DSU women’s lacrosse team in Georgia, Gov. Carney has failed to stand for justice for the same types of intrusive searches at home in Delaware by vetoing HB 371,” said Olivia Naugle, Marijuana the Policy Project’s senior policy analyst.

The Marijuana Policy Project cited  Civiqs polling, 72% of Delaware voters support legalization.

“We are deeply disappointed by the governor’s unwillingness to hear voters’ demands on this issue. A strong majority of Delaware voters support cannabis legalization and want to see the state stop wasting resources on punishing individuals for activities that are legal in 18 other states. We call on the legislature to take immediate action to override this veto,” said Zoë Patchell, Executive Director, Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network.

“Unfortunately, the governor has chosen to ignore the will of residents and a bipartisan supermajority of the General Assembly by vetoing HB 371. I’m deeply disappointed in his decision, especially since he could have allowed the bill to become law without his signature, which would have preserved both his personal opposition and the will of the residents and legislators. I will review what options are available and decide on any next steps at a later time,” Rep. Ed Osienski stated. Osienski has made multiple attempts to get a legalization bill passed.

“Vetoing HB 371 will not stop people from obtaining and consuming marijuana. It simply means they could face civil penalties for possession. We have to look no further than New Jersey to see how a new industry can create jobs and generate revenue – sales reached nearly $2 million on its first day. Until we establish a similar market in Delaware, people will continue to obtain marijuana illegally here through the illicit market or send tax revenue across the Delaware Memorial Bridge to New Jersey,” Osienski added.

HB 371 passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate by supermajority votes: 26-14 in the House and 13-7 in the Senate. Twenty-five votes would be required in the House to override a veto, and 13 would be required in the Senate. Delaware legislators have until June 30, when the legislative session ends, to override the governor’s veto.

HB 371 would not legalize or set up a regulatory framework for adult-use cannabis sales. Those details are in separate legislation, HB 372. While HB 372 fell short of the 25 votes needed on the House floor, the bill sponsor, Rep. Ed Osienski (D), changed his vote from yes to no, which will allow him to have the bill reconsidered before the legislative session ends on June 30. The final vote count was 23-15 with two absences (one of whom is a co-sponsor of the bill).

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 building strong momentum to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2022, including Maryland, Missouri, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

Most states that have legalized marijuana have done so with the help of referenda. The Delaware Constitution does not allow direct voting in a legal or advisory role.