Delaware Lawmakers Reintroduce Bill To Legalize Marijuana

“People shouldn’t be punished for smoking marijuana in the privacy of their homes,” Democratic Attorney General Kathy Jennings Photo: William Bretzger, The News Journal

DOVER, Del. — Democratic lawmakers are again proposing to legalize marijuana in Delaware after a failed effort last year.

The bill introduced Thursday is aimed at eliminating the black market for pot by establishing a state-licensed industry that would create jobs while padding state coffers with licensing fees and taxes.

“We want to create a legal industry that’s going to pay good jobs with good wages and benefits,” said chief House sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark.

The bill would not allow Delawareans to grow their own marijuana for their personal use.

“It has the potential to actually add to the black market,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, said of homegrown marijuana.

The new marijuana industry would be overseen by a state oversight committee and a Delaware marijuana commissioner, who would have the authority to adopt regulations and would submit an annual report to the governor and General Assembly.

Democratic Gov. John Carney, meanwhile, remains wary of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

“There are still unanswered questions, and he believes we should continue to monitor progress in other states that have legalized,” Carney’s spokesman, Jon Starkey, said in a statement.

Democratic Attorney General Kathy Jennings, however, is supportive of the idea.

“People shouldn’t be punished for smoking marijuana in the privacy of their homes,” Jennings said in a statement. “While important questions around the specifics of implementation — including impaired driving — need to be answered, I generally support legalizing marijuana as the logical answer to an outdated policy that has caused more harm than good, particularly in communities of color.”

Under the legislation, adults over age 21 could buy and possess up to an ounce of marijuana, no more than 5 grams of which could be in a concentrated form such as that used in edibles and vape liquids.

The legislation calls for initial authorization of 50 indoor and outdoor cultivation facilities of various sizes, 10 product manufacturing facilities, 15 retail stores and five testing facilities.

The state would collect a tax of 15% of the retail sales price of the marijuana products sold, as well as licensing fees for each facility. Licensing fees for stores, manufacturing facilities and testing facilities would be $10,000 every two years. Cultivation facilities would pay two-year licensing fees starting at $2,500 and increasing in $2,500 increments up to $10,000, depending on their size.

Retail sale hours would be similar to those allowed for alcohol sales. The bill prohibits the use of marijuana in public and by drivers and passengers in vehicles. It also prohibits smoking pot anywhere where smoking tobacco or e-cigarettes is not permitted.

While the bill allows employers and some owners of residential housing — including college dorms — to prohibit the use of marijuana, Delaware’s business community remains wary.

“The employer really isn’t protected at all from liability issues related to the use of marijuana in the workplace,” said James DeChene, government affairs director for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, which opposes legalization.

DeChene said legalization would have a significant impact on the manufacturing, construction and transportation industries.

“We’re worried about the impact on the tourism industry in this state and keeping our beaches family friendly,” he added. “Tourism is a billion-dollar-plus industry in this state, and anything that’s going to jeopardize that is an unintended consequence of this legislation that I don’t think has been taken into consideration yet.”

A similar bill failed to clear the House by four votes last year, with the chief sponsor blaming opposition from the law enforcement community. Five lawmakers, all members of the Democratic majority, declined to vote on the measure, ensuring its failure.

That vote came after the original legislation stalled the previous year amid opposition from the law enforcement, business and medical communities. Bill supporters responded by establishing a task force to study issues surrounding legalization, but the panel’s final report did little to resolve opponents’ concerns.

Opponents have argued that legalization carries unknown health risks and would lead to more drug addiction and homelessness, affect school and workplace productivity, and lead to more impaired-driving accidents.