The governor of Delaware says that he will allow a pair of bills to legalize marijuana possession and establish a regulated adult-use market become law without his signature.
Advocates were concerned that Gov. John Carney (D) would veto the proposals like he did in the last session. But in a welcome surprise to supporters, he said on Friday that he would let HB 1 and HB 2 go into effect—albeit without his active support.
That means Delaware, which is nicknamed “The First State,” will become the 22nd state in the U.S. to legalize recreational cannabis.
Carney, who previously declined to comment on his intentions for the marijuana measures from Rep. Ed Osienski (D), said that while his “views on this issue have not changed” and he still feels that legalization is “not a step forward,” he would not stand in the way of the reform any longer.
“I understand there are those who share my views who will be disappointed in my decision not to veto this legislation,” he said in a statement. “I came to this decision because I believe we’ve spent far too much time focused on this issue, when Delawareans face more serious and pressing concerns every day. It’s time to move on.”
Here is my statement on House Bill 1 and House Bill 2. https://t.co/zTYvPkbbZF
— Governor John Carney (@JohnCarneyDE) April 21, 2023
After the bills passed in the legislature, a spokesperson for the governor told Marijuana Moment that Carney “continues to have strong concerns about the unintended consequences of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in our state, especially about the impacts on our young people and highway safety.”
“I recognize that many legislators disagree—and I respect the legislative process,” he said. “I also do not believe prolonging debate on this issue best serves Delawareans.”
He similarly talked about believing that it was “time to move on” from the conversation over marijuana and focus on other priorities during a town hall event on Tuesday at which several voters pressed him on the issue. In his latest statement on Friday, he echoed that point and reiterated his outstanding concerns, explaining why he’d let the bills take effect but symbolically without his signature.
“I remain concerned about the consequences of a recreational marijuana industry in our state,” the governor said. “I’m concerned especially about the potential effects on Delaware’s children, on the safety of our roadways, and on our poorest neighborhoods, where I believe a legal marijuana industry will have a disproportionately negative impact. Those concerns are why I could not put my signature to either House Bill 1 or House Bill 2.”
“As we implement House Bill 1 and House Bill 2, we will do everything in our power to protect children from accessing marijuana and marijuana-related products; prevent Delawareans and Delaware visitors from driving under the influence of marijuana; and closely evaluate the placement of marijuana dispensaries and other businesses, to ensure they do not become a blight on already disadvantaged communities. My goal will be to ensure that Delaware has a robust regulatory system that protects the interests of the most vulnerable Delawareans, to avoid the many challenges we’ve seen in other states, and to get back to focusing on issues that are most important for Delaware families.”
Even if Carney had decided to veto the bills, both the simple legalization legislation and the sales regulation measure cleared both chambers this round with more than enough support to override him.
Osienski, the legislation’s sponsor, celebrated the news on Friday.
“After five years of countless meetings, debates, negotiations and conversations, I’m grateful we have reached the point where Delaware has joined a growing number of states that have legalized and regulated adult recreational marijuana for personal use,” he said in a press release. “We know that more than 60 percent of Delawareans support the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use, and more than two-thirds of the General Assembly agreed.”
“I understand the governor’s personal opposition to legalization, so I especially appreciate him listening to the thousands of residents who support this effort and allowing it to become law,” the lawmaker said. “I am committed to working with the administration to ensure that the effort to establish the regulatory process goes as smoothly as possible.”
“I have to thank my colleagues for standing together on this issue and contributing their input into the process. We have arrived at a stronger law, and Delaware will be better for it. I especially have to thank all the advocates who rallied for these bills and were patient as we negotiated, poked, prodded and cajoled our way to gaining enough support to pass the Marijuana Control Act. We’ve reached the mountaintop, and it feels great to finally get there. I hope everyone enjoys the moment.”
Osienski took a similar, bifurcated approach for the reform last session and saw the legislature pass the basic legalization proposal while narrowly defeating the regulatory measure.
Here’s what the HB 1 legalization bill will accomplish:
State statute would be revised to legalize the possession, use, sharing and purchasing of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older.
To avoid abuses of the “gifting” provision, the bill stipulates that “adult sharing” would not include giving away cannabis “contemporaneously with another reciprocal transaction between the same parties” such as an exchange of a non-marijuana item.
Public consumption and growing cannabis would remain prohibited.
People under 21 who engage in such activity would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $100 for a first offense. Police could use discretion and issue a citation in lieu of that fine, however.
Here’s an overview of the key provisions of the HB 2 regulatory bill:
The legislation would provide a basic framework to create a regulated system of cannabis commerce for adults in the state.
The Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement (DATE) would be responsible for regulating the market through a new Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner.
For the first 16 months of implementation, regulators could approve up to 30 cannabis retail licenses.
Applicants who show that they’d provide a living wage, health insurance coverage, sick and paid leave and focus on diversity in hiring would be prioritized in the licensing scoring process.
Seven percent of marijuana business fee revenue would go to a “Justice Reinvestment Fund” that supports restorative justice, workforce development, technical assistance for economically disadvantaged people and more.
That fund would also go toward “creating or developing technology to assist with the restoration of civil rights and expungement of criminal records.” However, the legislation itself doesn’t provide for automatic expungements.
In additional to conventional retail, cultivator, manufacturer and laboratory licenses, the bill would additional provide for social equity and microbusiness licenses (reserved for applicants with majority ownership by Delaware residents).
Localities would be able to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their area through ordinance.
Adult-use marijuana sales would be subject to a 15 percent sales tax. Medical cannabis products would not be taxed.
Olivia Naugle, senior policy analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, said on Friday that Delaware’s new law “will have a far-reaching, positive impact for many Delaware residents, especially those who have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition.”
“Legalizing and regulating cannabis is safer for both cannabis consumers and communities and will create a new source of good jobs and revenue for the state,” she said.
Delaware NORML Executive Director Laura Sharer said advocates are “thrilled to see cannabis legalization become a reality in our state.”
“This victory is a result of the tireless work of thousands of volunteers, dozens of lawmakers, and with the support of a huge majority of our Delaware community,” she said. “So many have championed this righteous cause and recognized the need for sensible cannabis policy reform.”
The Delaware Senate separately approved a resolution last month that urges the state’s congressional representatives to support legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.