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[caption id="attachment_199559" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Gov. John Carney has proved cautious in legalizing marijuana, a decision that could be reversed by a future progressive Democrat. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
For those who have paid attention over the duration of Gov. John Carney’s career, his controversial decision to veto a measure legalizing the personal possession of marijuana should not have come as a surprise.
[caption id="attachment_222223" align="alignright" width="300"] Jacob Owens Editor Delaware Business Times[/caption]
For all the punditry leading up to his denial about whether he would acquiesce to the demands of an increasingly vocal liberal majority in the First State, Carney has been a leader undeterred. Good for a political future or not, he is a man who sticks by his conscience. After years of working with the late former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner as her lieutenant governor to help decrease Delaware’s high rate of cancer and smoking, he wasn’t about to be the one to open the floodgates on a new legal vice. For several years, he has repeatedly said that he wasn’t in favor of legalization, regardless of what our neighboring states decided to do.That meant that advocates of legalization, including Rep. Ed Osienski who has doggedly pursued the cause despite continuously falling short, were well aware of the challenge before them: Marshal a majority vote and then hold ranks on a three-fifths majority to override Carney’s impending veto.For all of the horse-trading, cajoling and polling, the prospect of defying the governor proved too much for six House legislators who had supported the measure just a few weeks earlier.It was perhaps a rare moment that Carney has stood apart from the majority of his Democratic Party. He is the first Democratic governor to have vetoed a marijuana legalization measure since they began passing about a decade ago. In Delaware, both Senate and House Democrats overwhelmingly supported the measure in the initial vote, and polling from recent years has shown more than 60% of residents support it as well.Notably, none of the legislators who switched their votes to back Carney’s veto publicly voiced their reasons for doing so. Two of the most likely candidates to be his successor in Woodburn Hall even voiced their disagreement.Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long told the Delaware News Journal that she “supports the legalization of marijuana,” but would work to prevent youth and workplace usage. Elected independently alongside Carney, she is widely believed to follow in his footsteps and that of former governors like Mike Castle who first served in the state’s second highest role.If Hall-Long does run, she is likely to face a primary challenge from New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, a rising star in the state’s Democratic Party who is likely to follow the example of former county executives like Chris Coons to higher aspirations.“Prohibition is a public policy failure. It’s time to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol,” Meyer wrote in an op-ed column published after Carney’s veto, arguing that marijuana is widely available despite prohibition laws and even worse, the policies have “exacerbated racial inequities.”Meyer asserts that Delawareans who are interested in partaking now have access to marijuana through New Jersey’s recreational sales system. And consequently, the First State is forgoing millions in annual tax revenues that could contribute to any variety of community initiatives from education to mental health, road repair to land conservation as they have in other legalized states.The opinions of Hall-Long and Meyer show that Delaware’s political future is likely to move farther to the left than its already deeply blue state. Paired with recent wins of young progressives like State Sens. Sarah McBride and Marie Pinkney, Reps. Madinah Wilson-Anton and Eric Morrison and new Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola, the state Democratic Party isn’t lurching to the left but confidently striding there.Carney, known for his cautious approach and centrist inclinations, has supported a variety of more progressive causes, ranging from paid family and medical leave to enshrining abortion rights to stricter gun control measures. For those progressive wins, however, Carney has also been reluctant to spend lavishly on initiatives that would require long-term investments. With Delaware sitting on a surplus equal to nearly a quarter of its annual budget, many on both sides of the aisle are beginning to criticize that approach.A new generation of Delaware Democrats isn’t likely to be as cautious about funding their perceived solutions. Regardless of who is elected in 2024, marijuana legalization is likely to arrive here as early as 2025.What that means for the future of Delaware, and how it will affect the state’s business climate, isn’t entirely clear at the moment, but what it does mean is that we may have seen the last of a more reserved Democratic leader in Delaware in this decade.