House passes bill for recreational marijuana sales
DOVER – Just two days after approving a bill to legalize personal possession of marijuana, the state House of Representatives made history when it approved a bill Thursday that would set up a framework for legal recreational sales in Delaware.
The passage of House Bill 2 in the House is a significant victory, as it required a three-fifths majority vote rather than a simple majority because it creates new taxes on marijuana sales. It comes a year after the House denied a nearly identical bill with a one-vote margin, scuttling progress on the legalization movement. It’s the first time that the House has approved such a measure.
The 27-13 vote was also bipartisan like its companion House Bill 1, with two Republicans – Reps. Michael Smith and Jeff Spiegelman – joining Democrats in approval. Last year, Smith voted against the similar bill while Spiegelman didn’t vote at all.
Notably, Democratic House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf also backed the bill after voting against legalizing the drug earlier in the week. Although a longtime opponent of legalization, he has said that he wants to see a legal recreational market if the state approved legalization.
The margin of the vote’s approval was made thinner after Rep. Stephanie Bolden was absent in dealing with a sick family member, although Schwartzkopf shared that she supported the bill.
HB 2 will now move with its companion HB 1 to the State Senate, where passage of both is likely with support from Senate President David Sokola and a super-majority Democratic caucus. The future of a legal market in Delaware may once again fall to Gov. John Carney, who vetoed a virtually identical legalization bill last year, and lawmakers failed to shepherd enough votes to a three-fifths override vote.
After passage of HB 2 on Thursday, longtime bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark) received a round of applause from his colleagues.
“It has been a long journey to get to this point. We have experienced setbacks along the way, none worse than losing business to New Jersey. But we have learned a great deal and produced what we believe is a strong bill that will make Delaware an industry leader in this field,” Osienski said on the House floor, thanking his staff and legalization advocates.
Osienski was even congratulated by Republican House Minority Leader Mike Ramone who voted against the bill.
“You took a very, very stressful, complex issue, and you handled it with a lot of class and we, on both sides [of the aisle], are very grateful,” he said.
Despite the commendations for his work, several Republicans voiced opposition to the bill or questioned pieces of its workings before its passage.
Rep. Lyndon Yearick noted the uptick in overdose deaths in Delaware last year and questioned why the state would legalize a new drug that could be a gateway to more deadly ones. Similarly, Rep. Smith discussed how addiction has struck his family and how that made him not want to support the bill, but he would because it made for better public policy.
HB 2 would create a legal framework to regulate the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana, provide opportunities for small businesses to be licensed, and ensure people disproportionately affected by the prohibition of marijuana have access to this new market. The legislation also contains a new framework for directing some of the state proceeds from sales and licensing to justice reform efforts.
HB 2 would regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase a personal use quantity of marijuana from a licensed retail marijuana store. Under the bill, the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement (DATE) would absorb marijuana enforcement and create a separate, administrative Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
The legislation would allow for up to 30 retail licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill’s effective date. It also would establish a competitive licensing process through the Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner using a scoring system that rewards applicants for paying a living wage, providing employer-paid health insurance, providing sick and paid leave to workers, hiring more full-time workers, focusing on diversity of workforce, and other factors.
HB 2 would establish a marijuana control enforcement fee assessed at point of sale, set at 15%.
The measure would direct 7% of the marijuana fee revenue to a Justice Reinvestment Fund. The proposed fund would be administered by a new Criminal Justice Council and would be used to facilitate grants, contracts, services, or initiatives that focus on the following:
- Restorative justice, jail diversion, workforce development, industry-specific technical assistance or mentoring services for economically disadvantaged persons in disproportionately impacted areas.
- Addressing the underlying causes of crime, reducing drug-related arrests, and reducing the prison population in this state.
- Creating or developing technology to assist with the restoration of civil rights and expungement of criminal records.
The bill allows municipalities to prohibit the operation of marijuana facilities within their borders through local ordinances that are not in conflict with municipal regulations enacted under this law.
Neither bill would change existing state law regarding driving under the influence of an illicit or recreational drug. They also would not allow individuals to grow their own plants. Public consumption of marijuana would still not be permitted.
Employer enforcement largely would not change. Employers would be permitted to drug test workers for marijuana to ensure any zero-tolerance policies are being followed. They also would be able to discipline workers for being under the influence at work, as well as prohibit the consumption of marijuana at work.
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