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House fails to override pot veto

Katie Tabeling

The House of Representatives has failed to override the veto on personal use of marijuana. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER — After a three-hour caucus, the Delaware House of Representatives failed to overturn Gov. John Carney’s veto on legalization of personal use of marijuana.

The final vote on HB 371, held on Tuesday night, was 20-20, with House Majority Leader  Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) abstaining. As promised, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) voted against overturning the veto.

The last time the General Assembly overturned a governor’s veto was in 1977, according to the News Journal.

Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark) who led the effort for legalizing personal use of marjiuana for under 1 ounce, thanked his colleagues for their efforts on this piece of legislation despite the final-hour failure. The House caucused for roughly three hours before the session resumed for a vote.

“Unfortunately the outcome is not what I wanted, but I do want to say I’m proud that I’ve been fighting for something that such a large majority of Delawareans want. This is what I feel like they [the voters] sent me down to do. I’m appreciative of all the work I’ve done with my colleagues, but most of all, I feel good that I was working for Delaware,” Osienski said.

Osienski spearheaded the third attempt to legalize small amounts of marijuana, and in March, a previous iteration of the bill was voted on the House floor for the first time. However, that bill –  which would both legalize marijuana and create a regulatory and recreational sale system – failed after representatives caucused for hours and later introduced surprise amendments.

He later split the effort into two bills: HB 371 and HB 372, which would create the licensing and tax system for recreational sales. HB 371 passed with 26-14. HB 372 failed with a narrow margin, and was heavily dependent on the passage of its companion bill.

HB 372 is no longer likely to gain support to pass this year, meaning recreational sales will still be at least another year away even as neighboring states begin such sales.

Carney has long maintained his stance on marijuana, and in a letter to the General Assembly, he said that he does “not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people.”

He also maintains that there are still questions regarding the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved.

HB 371 received a supermajority of votes to clear the House when it was first heard for a floor vote in early May. Six representatives who voted “yes” to send the bill to the Senate switched their vote: Rep. Andria Bennett (D-Dover/Rising Sun-Lebanon), Rep. Stephanie Boulden (D-Wilmington), Rep. William Carson (D-Smyrna/Leipsic), Rep. Sean Matthews(D-Western Glasgow/Middletown), Rep. Mike Ramone (R-Pike Creek) and Rep. Jeff Spiegelman (R-Smryna/Clayton).

“Today’s veto attempt was a difficult task, as I didn’t have enough votes in my own caucus alone – only 23 members initially voted for HB 371,” Osienski said in a statement released Tuesday night. “I didn’t have the support of all three Republicans who voted for the bill, which put the veto override out of reach. However, I felt it was important to the advocates and supporters who have fought for a safe, legal, regulated cannabis industry to see this process through to the end.”

As Carney’s term ends in 2024, it may be unlikely for the legislature to legalize personal use of marijuana until then. Both New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long has spoken out in support of the measure, possibly hinting at future ambitions to the state’s highest office.

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