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Delaware Looking to Legalize Marijuana


(The Center Square) — Delaware lawmakers are making another push to legalize recreational cannabis, but the effort faces an uncertain path amid opposition from Gov. John Carney. 

A pair of bills filed in the state Assembly would, if approved, legalize recreational pot for adults over 21, and set up a system of regulation and taxation for the drug that would allow retail sales. It's similar to proposals filed in previous legislative sessions, all of which have failed to win

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The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Dover, said Delaware is missing out on tax revenue and jobs from the legal weed market as other states around them approve retail sales. 

"Delaware has been missing an opportunity to participate in the adult recreational marijuana market," Osienski said. "We’ve missed out on hurting the illegal market, creating a new industry with good-paying jobs, and bringing tax revenue into our state that is currently going to nearby states like New Jersey."

HB 1 would remove all penalties for possession of a personal use quantity of marijuana, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis flower or 12 grams of concentrated cannabis products. 

HB 2 would create a state-regulated system of licensed retail outlets, cultivation facilities and testing and set an excise tax on marijuana sales. The retail pot market would be regulated by a new Office of Marijuana Control Commission under the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement. 

The bill would authorize up to 30 retail pot licenses to be issued initially, but cities and towns would be allowed to ban pot shops within their borders by passing local ordinances. 

Neither bill would change existing state laws on driving under the influence of drugs, lawmakers said. Home growing and public consumption would still not be allowed. 

Last year, a similar proposal was approved by the state Assembly, but Gov. Carney vetoed the bill, citing the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational use of the drug and law enforcement concerns. 

At the time, the Democrat said he supports the state's medical marijuana program, but doesn't believe legalizing recreational cannabis is "in the best interests" of the state. 

But supporters say they've spent the past year working to resolve issues that were raised during debate on the previous bill, and say they are "optimistic" it will pass. 

"Every year we don’t pass these bills, Delaware misses out on millions in revenue," said state Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, lead Senate sponsor of both bills. "From both an economic and a criminal justice perspective, legalizing and regulating the sale of marijuana is the right thing to do." 

A report by State Auditor Kathy McGuiness, released during last year's debate on legalization, estimated Delaware could generate $43 million annually in revenue from authorizing recreational sales and imposing a 20% excise tax. The legal weed market could also create an estimated 1,000 new jobs over five years, according to the report.

To date, at least 18 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territory of Guam have legalized recreational marijuana, to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Thirty-six states have medical marijuana programs. 

Delaware decriminalized cannabis use in 2015, making it a civil penalty subject to $100 fine. Medical use of cannabis is permitted for adult patients with certain serious illnesses.

The fight over retail sales in Delaware has pitted legalization advocates against the state's budding medical marijuana operators, who came out publicly against last year's proposal. 

After medical marijuana operators testified against the proposal, a group of Delaware pot activists led a boycott against the state's six existing medical pot shops.

Recent polls have shown a majority of the state's voters support legalizing recreational cannabis sales.