Marijuana legalization bill passed by House

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Legislative Hall in Dover.

The Delaware House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a bill that would legalize the sale of recreastional marijuana.

Sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski, House Bill 2 would create a legal framework to regulate the cultivation, sale, and possession of marijuana, provide opportunities for small businesses to be licensed, and ensure people living in areas disproportionately affected by the prohibition of marijuana have equal access to this new market, a release from House Democrats stated. The bill also contains a new framework for directing some of the state proceeds from sales and licensing to justice reform efforts.

The House passed a companion bill legalizing adult recreational marijuana on Tuesday. House Bill 1 would remove all penalties for possession of a personal use quantity of marijuana, except for those who are under 21 years of age. Possession of more than a personal use quantity of marijuana and public consumption would remain unclassified misdemeanors. Both bills are headed to the Senate for consideration.

Both pieces of legislation were vetoed last year by Gov. John Carney. It would take a three-fifths vote of the General Assembly to override the governor’s veto.

Voting for the bill this time around was House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, who earlier voted no on House Bill 1. He was joined by two Republican legislators who broke ranks with the bulk of the members of the GOP caucus.

“During the past several years, we have seen numerous states, including neighboring New Jersey, legalize, regulate and sell adult recreational marijuana. They have brought much-needed revenue into their states and created good-paying jobs,” said  Osienski, D-Brookside. “We’ve learned what works well for cultivation and retail and are confident that we have a quality bill that will make Delaware a safe and successful market for legal cannabis. We know Delawareans overwhelmingly want this, so it’s time we finish the legislative process and get started creating a brand-new industry in our state. I’m hopeful the Senate will quickly pass these two bills.”

Polls over the years have shown a sizable majority of Delawareans favor legalization. Opponents claim that medical concerns, use by teens and an inability to test impaired drivers are reasons to not vote yes.

HB 2, which passed the House 27-13, would regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase a personal use quantity of marijuana from a licensed retail marijuana store. 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 sick and paid leave to workers, hiring more full-time workers, focusing on diversity of workforce, and other factors.

HB 2 would establish a marijuana control enforcement fee assessed at point of sale, set at 15%. Opponents have said that high taxes will allow illegal sales to flourish.

The measure would direct 7% of the marijuana fee revenue to a Justice Reinvestment Fund. The proposed fund would be administered by the Criminal Justice Council and would be used to facilitate grants, contracts, services, or initiatives that focus on the following:

  • Restorative justice, jail diversion, workforce development, industry-specific technical assistance or mentoring services for economically disadvantaged persons in disproportionately impacted areas.
  • Addressing the underlying causes of crime, reducing drug-related arrests, and reducing the prison population in this state.
  • Creating or developing technology to assist with the restoration of civil rights and expungement of criminal records.

Because this bill addresses revenue and taxation, it requires a 3/5 vote in each chamber (25 in the House).

HB 2 would create new license pools for Social Equity and Microbusiness applicants. These applicants would have access to technical assistance programs, reduced fees, an adjusted points scale, and a waiver of the physical location requirement.

The new Microbusiness Applicant pool would be limited to applicants with majority ownership held by Delaware residents. These applicants would have reduced fees, though higher than Social Equity applicants, and an adjusted points scale. These applicants would have access to Cultivation and Product Manufacturing Licenses.

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.

Neither HB 1 nor HB 2 would change existing state law regarding driving under the influence of an illicit or recreational drug. They 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, as well as prohibit the consumption of marijuana at work.

Currently, recreational marijuana use is permitted in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Nearby states Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and New York have legalized adult recreational cannabis.

HB 2 heads to the Senate for consideration.