Marijuana legalization bill clears House panel in Delaware
DOVER, Del. (AP) — A Democrat−led House committee voted mostly along party lines Wednesday to release a bill legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults in Delaware.
A lone Republican joined Democrats on the Health and Human Development committee in voting to release the bill, which will now likely head to an appropriations committee for consideration.
The bill creates a state−controlled and licensed pot industry that supporters say will eliminate the black market while creating jobs and boosting the state’s tax coffers. The measure is the third iteration of legislation that was first introduced in 2019 but which has never received a floor vote.
The bill legalizes possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older, but it prohibits people from growing their own pot. The state would instead oversee a manufacturing and distribution industry and levy a 15% tax on retail sales.
Chief sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski, a Newark Democrat, said the bill “will create good−paying jobs for Delawareans while striking a blow against the criminal element which profits from the thriving illegal market in our state.”
Opponents argue that legalization will lead to increased marijuana use among teens and young adults, expose business owners to liability, and result in more traffic deaths and injuries. They also say it will do little to eliminate illegal sales.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that the legalization of marijuana in California has done little to discourage black market sales in that state, and that some California licensees are simultaneously participating in the black market — whose estimated value of $8 billion is roughly double the amount of legal sales — in order to make a profit.
Rep. Charles Postles, a Milford Republican, suggested that the best approach to marijuana lies somewhere between legalization and “excessive punitiveness." He argued, however, that use of marijuana with high THC content has been proven to have permanent detrimental effects on brain development among teens and young adults.
“Why would we want to saddle our kids and our grandkids and limit their potential, their lifelong earnings even, by exposing them to this harmful drug that would impair their brain development?” Postles asked. “To me, that eclipses all the other discussions.”
Currently, 18 states, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana. But supporters of legalization have faced an uphill battle in Delaware, given opposition by Democratic Gov. John Carney and officials in the law enforcement and medical communities.
Carney administration officials expressed several concerns about the legislation Wednesday, despite changes made to last year’s version. Public health officials are concerned, for example, that lower licensing fees for recreational pot facilities compared to fees for existing medical marijuana facilities will lead to a shift to recreational production, to the detriment of medical marijuana patients.
Agriculture and public health officials also argue that outdoor production of recreational marijuana poses security and product safety risks, and that any production should be indoors only. Agricultural officials also say the bill raises questions about agency jurisdiction over crop production, processing and sales.
The bill states that the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement would be responsible for marijuana enforcement and calls for the creation of a new Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
State finance officials, meanwhile, say the bill still does not address important issues including tax enforcement, banking and indemnification of state employees who would be regulating the sale of a product that is still illegal under federal law.
In an effort to broaden support for his bill, Osienski made several changes to last year’s version. They include adding the requirement of a comprehensive business plan to the scoring criteria for licenses and directing 7% of marijuana tax revenue to a Justice Reinvestment Fund. The fund would be focused on criminal justice reform and services for economically disadvantaged persons in areas disproportionately affected by enforcement of drug laws.
The revised legislation also eliminates a proposed Social Equity Loan fund to provide grants and low−interest loans to “social equity” license applicants. That provision meant the previous bill needed a three−fourths supermajority votes in the House and Senate, making passage extremely unlikely. The revised bill requires smaller three−fifths majority votes while still providing special considerations, including reduced fees, for social equity and “microbusiness” applicants. The social equity applicant pool would be limited to those who live in a disproportionately affected area, have been convicted of a marijuana−related offense, or are the child of a person convicted of a marijuana−related offense.
The new version of the bill proposed by Osienski, a retired business agent for a sprinkler fitters union, also eliminates a requirement that applicants for cultivation and manufacturing licenses use union labor to build or renovate facilities. The current version instead requires a license applicant to enter into a “labor peace agreement” that would prevent a union from engaging in picketing, boycotts or other economic interference with a licensee’s business, while prohibiting the business from disrupting any union efforts to organize workers.
Randall Chase, The Associated Press