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House Speaker: ‘I will work against’ pot veto override

Katie Tabeling

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, said he will not work to override the governor’s veto on marijuana legalization. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

DOVER – The top Democratic lawmakers stand at odds over whether to overturn Gov. John Carney’s veto on legalization of personal amounts of marijuana, making the case of whether the General Assembly can overturn the veto questionable with four weeks left in the annual session.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) told Delaware’s business leaders on Tuesday afternoon that he would not vote for House Bill 371, when and if it would be recalled to the floor in coming days. During a question and answer segment of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s End-of-Session policy conference, he reiterated his stance.

“Seven years ago, I sat right on top of the stage and told this group that I do not support legalizing marijuana for a host of reasons. I will not override the governor’s veto, and I will not vote for it and I will work against it,” he said.

HB 371, which was sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark), legalizes marijuana possession under 1 ounce, removing a citation and fine that remain under the state’s decriminalization framework. The bill was one of two that were spun out of a bill that legalized marijuana possession and created a licensing system, with the idea that legalizing the substance before creating a sales system would be more palatable. The bill passed on a thin margin in early May, without Schwartzkopf’s support.

HB 371 does not legalize growing marijuana in homes. Possession over an ounce would still be a felony.

Two weeks ago, Carney announced he would veto the bill, citing concerns about promoting marijuana for Delaware’s youth and long-lingering questions of its long-term impact.

In 2019, the governor signed a bill that made personal marijuana possession a civil violation for those who are age 21 and younger. Four years before that, Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill that eliminated arrests and jail time for those over 21 who possessed a small amount of marijuana, making it a civil infraction.

Schwartzkopf elaborated that removing arrests for marijuana possession and record expungement were also underway. He added that he supported medical marijuana, a state industry that sold more than $19 million in product in 2019 alone.

Osienski said he will review what options are available and decide his next move. The last time the General Assembly overturned a governor’s veto was in 1977, according to the News Journal. 

The House would need three-fifths votes, or 25 legislatures to override Carney’s opposition. HB 371 passed the house in a 26-14 vote.

However, Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola (D-Pike Creek) said he “politely disagreed” with Schwartzkopf. His view on the issue focused more on social equity, as he argued there was four times the prosecution of minority people around the country, which included many drug arrests.

“It’s not as dangerous as the more serious drugs, and there is specific training police officers have to test for this, like a field test. I want workplaces to be safe, and I do think there’s other things we can do to keep them free of [drugs],” Sokola said.

But HB 371 would have to go through the House chamber first, he added.

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