Delaware lawmakers have launched a new drive to legalize cannabis with the approval of two separate bills in legislative committees on Wednesday. A more comprehensive proposal to legalize pot for adult use and regulate commercial cannabis operations failed to gain approval in the Delaware House of Representatives last month.
The first measure released from committee this week, House Bill 371, would legalize personal possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults. Representative Ed Osienski, the sponsor of the legislation, explained to Delaware Public Media that the bill “legalizes the personal possession of an ounce or less, but it still is illegal to be under 21 in possession, possessing over an ounce, and it’s still illegal to drive impaired.” He noted it would also still be against the law to smoke cannabis in public.
Osienski believes that separating legalizing possession from regulating and taxing commercial cannabis will make HB 371 easier to pass than the comprehensive measure, House Bill 305, that failed to reach the three-fifths majority required because it contains new tax provisions. Without such measures, HB 371 needs only a simple majority to pass. The bill was approved by the House Health and Human Development Committee on Wednesday.
“HB 305 had the whole regulatory system in there for the industry of cultivating, manufacturing, and selling marijuana in the state of Delaware and it had a tax on it, which meant it would require 25 [votes], which is a hard threshold to meet,” Osienski told WDEL. “I figured, at least we can move forward with legalization with a simple majority of 21. I do have 21 House co-sponsors on the bill, so I think I’m pretty fairly confident that, unless something dramatically changes, that will pass and end prohibition.”
Separate Bill To Regulate Cannabis Commerce
A separate measure from Osienski, House Bill 372, was approved by the House Revenue and Finance Committee on Wednesday. The bill would regulate commercial cannabis production and sales, authorizing 30 retail licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and 5 testing licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill’s effective date. The bill also levies a 15% tax on retail cannabis sales.
Representative Paul Baumbach voted in favor of HB 372. He said the bill has significant changes compared to the legislation that failed in March.
“This is a different bill than what we looked at last month,” said Baumbach. “This says when marijuana is legal in Delaware do we want it taxed and regulated? I think that everyone in my world and I know this is not the real world. I think everyone would want to have it taxed and regulated.”
Representative Mike Ramone voted against releasing HB 372 from the committee. He said that the bill includes too much government involvement in the cannabis industry.
“I would like to see a different format of that maybe even a digestion from process that is already there whether it’s through the smoke shops or the liquor stores or even a blend. I just think we’re doing an awful lot,” said Ramone. “I also do not like the fact of taxing them. I think that keeps the black market more active.”
Osienski says that separating the possession issue from regulation will make decriminalizing cannabis easier to pass. Once it has, he hopes that regulating commerce will become more palatable to those who currently oppose the idea.
“I’m hoping I won’t need their vote on legalization, but if they will then vote for regulation, we can possibly get both of these bills through,” said Osienski. “That’s my goal, and always was—that’s why I ran with the single bill that did both.”
“If, for some reason, regulation does not pass, I’ll come back next year and continue to push for it because I still feel an important aspect of these bills is ending the illegal market eventually,” he added. “So, until we have a regulated framework to allow businesses to grow, the illegal markets are going to continue, and that, to me, is not acceptable. I will keep on fighting to get the regulations and the industry set up, which is going to create jobs.”