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Marijuana commissioner preps for new era of Delaware cannabis

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The new era of Delaware cannabis is on the horizon and Rob Coupe, the state’s first Marijuana Commissioner says he’s ready for the challenge.

Delaware’s new Office of the Marijuana Commissioner opened in July 2023./PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OMC

DOVER – The new era of Delaware cannabis is on the horizon and Rob Coupe, the state’s first Marijuana Commissioner says he’s ready for the challenge.

The Delaware Marijuana Commissioner began his post late last year as the First State started formally grappling with the challenge of regulating the incoming industry through his new office. Gov. John Carney appointed the former Delaware State Trooper to the post last summer, tasked with organizing the First State’s roll out of regulations and licenses to grow and sell cannabis.

Coupe, who spoke on a panel of regulators, advocates, cannabis businesses and other professionals on Friday morning, said he hopes legislators agree to move the medicalmarijuana program to his office in the near future. The Office of Medical Marijuana opened in 2011.

“One of the challenges we saw with the way the legislation has worked out is that they kept us separate. But we think that was the fastest path to least resistance to get it done,” Coupe told attendees at the New Era of Delaware Cannabis webinar. The event was hosted by media company Our Delaware. “The only difference is our medical program has no sales tax. Recreational marijuana has a 15% sales tax. That’s kind of a big deal for our Division of Revenue.”

Recreational marijuana, the group clarified, will be Delaware’s first item to be given a sales tax.

While professionals wait for future updates to Delaware law, addressing the need to formalize Delaware’s recreational marijuana industry continues to present urgency. Coupe said the hope is that regulations, growers and licensed retailers, including those who need a little support from the state to get there, will be ready for the influx of business around March 2025.

According to the Delaware Office of the Marijuana Commissioner (OMC) website, the state anticipates adoption of regulations to administer the licensing of recreational marijuana businesses by July 2024 and applications for those licenses will be accepted starting in September 2024.

The commissioner’s office is required by law to start with 125 awarded licenses to include licenses for cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, retail operations and testing facilities. Coupe’s office confirmed with the Delaware Business Times that the 125 licenses must include micro-businesses and 47 social equity applicants as a minimum, but more would be acceptable.

“I think the pathway forward to really make this successful in Delaware is to bring everyone together,” Coupe said. “Since I became a trooper on Feb. 26, 1985, a lot has changed in the world and I’ve changed with it.”

“The one thing that has really stood out is the passion. Most of the folks involved have some sort of connection to it, that passion that they bring,” he continued. “These positions are challenging as a lot of government positions are because you have a lot of folks telling you what you need to do and accomplish. But at the end of the day, if it’s successful, you’re successful. But if it fails, it’s on you.”

Delaware is preparing for the official launch of recreational marijuana sales, as Coupe’s office has been finalizing a draft of the oversight office and regulations in the last two months. Carney, who is winding down his final year in his final term, appointed Coupe who has served in many state offices since the early 2010s. The governor, who reluctantly allowed recreational marijuana legalization to pass last summer, has said his goal is to create a “robust regulatory system.”

But for other advocates who spoke during the New Era of Delaware Cannabis event, marijuana legalization has been a long time coming.

“Marijuana is a drug that has been used for many, many cultures,” advocate and former Senator Margaret Rose Henry said during the New Era of Delaware Cannabis webinar hosted by Our Delaware on Friday.

Henry detailed her career-long advocacy for marijuana legalization to the group, including her own efforts to pass bills in the past. “We finally reached a point where we can legalize it . . .  I’m very excited about the work that you’re doing today,” she said.

She and other panelists, along with Coupe, emphasized the need to make sure minority, low-income and other socially disadvantaged residents are “able to participate in the sale and growth of this opportunity.” Ensuring the industry is molded with a collaborative spirit was another point noted by many of the panelists.

“I took over a district held by an incumbent for 40 years, a retired cop, and he never wanted to speak about this,” State Senator Kyra Hoffner (D-Middletown/North Dover) said during the webinar, offering kudos to advocacy work done by Henry. “When she was one of the lone senators advocating for this, I was one of the lone advocates fighting for this. We had doors shutting in our faces.”

That was until around 2015, she explained, when then-Governor Jack Markell signed a law decriminalizing the possession marijuana by adults if it is less than one ounce.

“That’s when arrest records went way down,” Hoffner added, who said she uses medical marijuana to control seizures. “About 20 years ago, I started getting sick and I started pushing it away because it wasn’t socially acceptable. . . My last seizure was six hours long, it was just continuous.”

At that point, Hoffner decided she would no longer take traditional medication and started using cannabis instead.

“I have not had one seizure since,” she explained.

Advocates like Hoffner and Rose say the new era of Delaware cannabis is another step forward for patients and recreational users statewide. 

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