A Democrat-led House committee voted mostly along party lines Wednesday to release a bill legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults in Delaware.
The bill, HB 305, passed the committee on a 10-4 vote, reports Marijuana Moment. A lone Republican joined Democrats on the Health and Human Development committee in voting to release the bill. It will now likely head to an appropriations committee for consideration, reports The Star Democrat.
The bill creates a state-regulated and licensed pot industry that supporters say will reduce the black market while creating jobs and boosting state tax revenues. The measure is the third try for legislation first introduced in 2019 but which has never received a floor vote.
Up To An Ounce; No Growing (Sigh)
The bill legalizes possession of up to one ounce of Cannabis by adults 21 and older. But — and this really sucks — it prohibits people from growing their own pot. The state would instead essentially control all legal cultivation and distribution, and levy a 15% tax on retail sales. (Washington state can claim the inglorious title of the first ”legal” state to also, under the same law, ban cultivation. That was almost a decade ago, back in 2012, and they haven’t ”fixed” that law to this day.)
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 claim that legalization will lead to increased use among teens and young adults, expose business owners to liability, and result in more traffic deaths and injuries. (The fact that none of these things have happened in legal states seems not to matter much to them.)
Illegal Sales Persist
Opponents also say it will do little to eliminate illegal sales. And, honestly, we must grant them that point.
LeafNation reported last year that the legalization of marijuana in California has done little to discourage black market sales in that state. The black market in Cali enjoys an estimated value of $8 billion.
That’s roughly double the amount of legal, taxed sales.
How To Render Yourself Irrelevant
Rep. Charles Postles, a Milford Republican, suggested that the best approach to marijuana lies somewhere between legalization and “excessive punitiveness.” Now, Rep. Postles lost us on two points, simultaneously. He opposes legalization, and he believes some level of “punitiveness” isn’t ”excessive” when it comes to weed. GTFO of here with that noise, Rep. Postles.
But beyond mere policy disagreements, Postles argued that using high THC content weed “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.”
Even if we generously grant his (very arguable and weak) point, his argument also contains a self-own. Postles seems to be under the fond illusion that marijuana prohibition somehow keeps weed out of the hands of young people.
Prohibition, of course, does nothing of the sort. On the contrary, illegal pot dealers don’t check ID. Legal Cannabis dispensaries most assuredly and assiduously do.
Uphill Battle In Delaware
Supporters of legalization have faced an uphill battle in Delaware. That’s especially true, given opposition by Democratic Gov. John Carney, who should know better. He’s one of the very few Democratic governors nationwide who oppose adult-use legalization.
And, of course, legalization will always be opposed, facts be damned, by certain backwards, pot-hating elements of law enforcement.
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. That would be detrimental to availability for medical Cannabis patients in Delaware.
Some agriculture and public health officials also argue that outdoor production of recreational marijuana poses security and product safety risks. They argue that any production should be indoors only. (That of course means an astronomical increase in the cost of dispensary weed.)
Agricultural officials also say the bill raises questions about agency jurisdiction over crop production, processing and sales.
Marijuana Control Commissioner = Homeland Security?!
The bill states that the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement would be responsible for marijuana enforcement. It calls for the creation of a new Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
The idea of a new Cannabis bureaucracy, along with the headaches and logjams it brings, of course, isn’t exactly a Utopian vision. And giving that same bureaucracy Homeland Security-level powers is certain reason for a long, thoughtful (even worried) pause.
Delaware finance officials, meanwhile, say the bill still doesn’t address issues including tax enforcement, banking and indemnification of state employees. (That’s seen as necessary, since state officials would be regulating sales of a product still illegal under federal law.)
Sponsor Tweaks Last Year’s Bill To Broaden Support
In an effort to broaden support for his legislation, bill sponsor Osienski made several changes to last year’s version.
The changes include adding the requirement of a comprehensive business plan to the scoring criteria for marijuana retail licenses. Preference is given to businesses who pay workers a living wage, provide health insurance or meet certain other benchmarks.
Another of the changes directs 7% of Cannabis 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 Health and Human Development Committee approved last year’s measure, too, reports Marijuama Moment. But it stalled without a floor vote due to disagreements over social equity provisions. At that time, Osienski pledged to bring a revised bill for the 2022 session that could earn broad enough support to pass.