Delaware State Auditor: Time Is Now To Legalize Marijuana

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DOVER — It’s time to legalize marijuana consumption in Delaware, said state Auditor Kathy McGuiness, who touted a supposed economic benefit of more than $43 million in tax revenue to Delaware if recreational sales are allowed.

In an 11-page report released Monday, Ms. McGuiness outlined issues and background surrounding potential legalization, noting that 15 states allow recreational sales of marijuana, and several more are considering it.

New Jersey’s recent successful referendum for legalization may soon bring opportunity for Delawareans to spend their money on marijuana there and return home to use it illegally.

Delaware’s auditor said the state’s public opinion to legalize is at an all-time high, while “nearby states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia are on the cusp of legalization, (and) Delaware should apply the same consideration.

“Inaction doesn’t reward us with curbed usage but will prevent us from realizing economic benefits and the $43 million that could be available if Delaware were to devise a responsible regulatory framework,” she said.

An attempt to reach Gov. John Carney’s office for comment on this issue Tuesday was unsuccessful.

A bill to legalize marijuana is sure to come up as lawmakers begin the 2021 legislative session, The Associated Press reported. However, efforts in Delaware to legalize marijuana have failed perennially.

Pointing to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration data compiled from 2015-16, Ms. McGuiness indicated that an estimated 13% of adults in Delaware admit to having smoked marijuana. Reviews of Colorado and Washington data showed consumers indicated users spent $2,080 on it annually, so a 20% excise tax rate from an estimated $215 million industry could generate the estimated $43 million in revenue if Delaware’s consumer habits were consistent with those states.

The federal-level Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support, allows for decriminalization of marijuana and opportunity for states to determine their own policies, Ms. McGuiness noted in the report.

Public opinion for legalization has increased steadily, according to Gallup polls from 2000 to 2020, and the Pew Research Center found that 2 out of every 3 Americans supported full legalization in 2020, according to the auditor’s report.

Legalization support from Republicans dipped from 51% in 2017 to 48% in 2020, according to Gallup, while Democrats increased from 78% to 83% and independents rose from 68% to 72%.

“Cultural opinions on marijuana legalization are no longer cut clearly along party lines,” the auditor said. “A majority of Republicans nationally favored legalization for the first time in 2017.

“We see this also in the number of voters from conservative-leaning states that voted in favor of legalization in the past election.”

Over five years, roughly 1,400 to 2,400 jobs could be created in Delaware with legalization, based on methodology used in a Virginia Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission report, Ms. McGuiness said.

The auditor’s report concluded with:

“It is a misconception to think that supporting legalization also means supporting marijuana consumption. These two issues are not one in the same.

“Prohibition has done little to prevent the sale and recreational use of marijuana in Delaware, but it has allowed a black market to remain intact. Regulation is a key toward controlling commercially legalized marijuana for production, sale and consumption.

“Legalization done right in our view would allow Delaware to establish a policy framework to suppress the black market, curb usage through regulation for minors and collect revenue on a market demand that seems only to be increasing. It would also provide a new revenue stream and new potential for economic growth.

“Additionally, it would eliminate arrests and keep people out of prison. Each year that we fail to capitalize on this opportunity means more money could flow to neighboring states instead of being invested here. It is time Delaware pursue legalizing marijuana.”

The economic impact is not guaranteed, though, according to a report by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“One of the challenges of legalized recreational marijuana is that the tax revenue is difficult to forecast because of the lack of historical data,” a report said.

“Even Colorado and Washington, the first states to begin legal marijuana sales in 2014, have only a few years of data on which to base projections.”