Marijuana legalization bill clears Delaware House

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DOVER, Del. (AP) — The Delaware House voted Thursday to approve a bill legalizing possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults for recreational use.

The legislation cleared the Democrat-led House on 26-14 vote and now goes to the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats. Even if it were to pass both chambers, it faces a potential veto from Democratic Gov. John Carney, who has previously expressed doubts about legalizing recreational marijuana.

Under current law, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana by anyone 21 years of age or older carries a civil penalty of $100. That provision would be eliminated under the bill approved Thursday.

Possession of recreational marijuana by anyone under 21 would still result in a civil penalty, while possession of more than one ounce of marijuana and public consumption would remain misdemeanors.

The bill approved Thursday was introduced in late March as stand-alone legislation after a failed effort to pass broader legislation creating a state-regulated and taxed marijuana industry.

“Delaware is more than capable of successfully enacting policies for safe and legal cannabis,” chief bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski, a Newark Democrat, said in a statement after Thursday’s vote. “I’m grateful to the House for passing this bill and look forward to continuing this effort until Delaware is poised to establish a new, legal industry in our state.”

Passage of the legalization bill required only a simple majority, but legislation creating a state-licensed marijuana industry would require a three-fifths majority vote in each chamber because it would establish a new tax.

Legislation that would have both legalized recreational marijuana use by adults and establish a state-run pot industry was defeated in the House in March. Members voted 23-14 in favor the legislation, but it fell two votes short of a three-fifths majority. No Republicans voted in favor of that bill, and four lawmakers, including two Democrats, chose not to vote.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf of Rehoboth, a retired state trooper, was the only Democrat to vote against that bill. He also voted against the legalization bill on Thursday, along with fellow Democrat Bill Bush of Dover and 12 of the 15 GOP representatives.

Meanwhile, a separate bill sponsored by Osienski to create a state-run marijuana industry cleared the House Revenue and Finance Committee last month and is awaiting consideration by the Appropriations Committee.

Supporters of that legislation have argued that a state-controlled and licensed pot industry would curtail the black market while creating jobs and boosting Delaware’s tax coffers. The bill calls for the state to license and oversee a manufacturing and distribution industry and levy a 15% tax on retail sales. It would prohibit people from growing their own plants for personal consumption.

Opponents have argued that legalization would lead to increased marijuana use among teens and young adults, expose business owners to liability, and result in more traffic deaths and injuries. They also say it would do little to eliminate illegal sales.

The Associated Press reported in January that the legalization of marijuana in California had done little to discourage black market sales in that state, and that some California licensees are simultaneously participating in the black market — whose estimated value of $8 billion is roughly double the amount of legal sales — in order to make a profit.

Currently, recreational marijuana use is permitted in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

Randall Chase, The Associated Press

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