The Delaware House passed a bill on Thursday that would remove all penalties for adults 21 and older possessing an ounce or less of weed, reports Delaware Online. It’s a historic first step as lawmakers attempt to legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana.
This vote comes after years of multiple failed attempts with similar bills. House Bill 371 passed early Thursday evening with a vote of 26-14. It got bipartisan support from Republican Reps. Michael Smith of Pike Creek and Jeffrey Spiegelman of Clayton.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and Rep. Bill Bush, representing Dover, were the only Democrats to vote No. Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, a Wilmington Democrat, wasn’t present for the vote.
GOP Lawmakers Fret About Federal Government
Some Republican lawmakers raised concerns on Thursday about the bill. They specifically fretted about how, at the federal level, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug.
Evidently, they don’t follow the news very closely. Marijuana has been legal almost 10 years in Washington and Colorado. There has been no crackdown. The federal government has never enforced its marijuana laws against state-licensed adult-use operators in legal states.
“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” Republican Rep. Steve Smyk said on the House floor. “I applaud you for your strategy because it’s going to win, but I cannot support it.”
Separating Legalization From Regulation
Following a failed House vote in March, lawmakers decided to split it into two bills – one legalization and the other regulation. There are early signs that this could be a successful approach.
The bill to legalize marijuana required only a simple majority. It now makes its way to the Delaware Senate. It will likely pass there, because it has the support of the chamber’s leadership.
Possessing 1 ounce or less of Cannabis is already decriminalized in Delaware, meaning there is no criminal penalty. This bill removes any type of civil penalty as well. But for anyone under 21 or those possessing more than an ounce, it will remain an “unclassified misdemeanor.”
Regulating The Market Requires 3/5 Vote
The path to regulating the Cannabis industry is more complicated. Legislation to regulate the market requires three-fifths of lawmakers to support it. Because some Democrats still don’t support legalization (and almost no Republicans do), it’s still unclear if the regulatory bill has the votes to pass.
Rep. Ed Osienski, the Newark Democrat who has led these efforts, heard from colleagues in recent weeks that some Delaware lawmakers would vote to regulate marijuana if it was first legalized.
There is speculation that some lawmakers will vote for this regulation bill, which hasn’t yet made it to the House floor, while voting no on the legalization bill. The regulation bill will establish ground rules for licenses to grow and sell Cannabis, reports WDEL. It will also define how weed would be taxed, and how social equity would be approached for communities victimized by the Drug War.
Governor Carney Needs To Get His Head Right
The legalization bill will likely encounter smooth sailing in the Delaware Senate. That means the only guy left who could screw it up is Democratic Gov. John Carney. You see, Carney, 65, is unfortunately a Drug War relic. And he just doesn’t like marijuana.
The governor has, for years, been vocally against legalizing adult-use Cannabis. Even as other states in the region, including New Jersey, have legalized weed, relic Carney has repeatedly described it as a “bad idea.”
It’s unclear if Carney will actually veto either or both of the two marijuana bills. A spokeswoman on Thursday said that the governor’s position has not changed.
“Absolutely Historic Day In Delaware”
Zoe Patchell, executive director of Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, said the vote represents an “absolutely historic day in Delaware.”
Patchell said advocates will continue to educate lawmakers who don’t yet support this legalization bill or the upcoming regulation bill. She hopes General Assembly members will see the “writing on the wall” that recreational marijuana in Delaware is inevitable.
“It’s a really big, huge day for us in terms of progress,” she said. “This has been a very long time in the making.”