DE: Marijuana Task Force Meeting Adjourns In Controversy, Disarray

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Wednesday’s meeting of a task force examining issues around marijuana legalization left more questions than it answered and resulted in at least one member concluding the group had failed to meet its stated purpose.

A vote to release the task force’s report was initially thought to have succeeded only for it to be pointed out by reporters that it had, in fact, failed.

Just 12 of the 25 members supported releasing the report.

The co-chair then claimed the vote was non-binding, simply held upon the request of a task force member, and the report can be still provided to other lawmakers.

Complicating matters is the fact that the same co-chair, Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, insisted the report contains no items requiring a vote, while several members argued it does.

On top of that, the report was supposed to be completed and distributed to the General Assembly and governor by Feb. 28. No extension has been approved.

Due to an initial miscounting, most members left the building thinking the vote was successful. The few that were told it had failed were dismayed to learn Rep. Keeley characterized the vote as not binding — despite not informing the room of that before the vote itself.

“It would look a poor game if that’s the way it’s going to be released,” Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, said of the report afterward.

After meeting for about an hour and 15 minutes, members voted on a motion to release the report pending final approval next week. In the interim, they would review the product and recommend any technical changes.

The final report would not have any “substantive” alterations compared to the draft document voted on Wednesday.

But the failed vote leaves the next step in question.

“Now, I guess we would have to have a conversation about how we move forward from this,” Rep. Keeley said. “We would still allow the report as currently written to be available to any member of the General Assembly that would like to have a copy of it.”

The concluded report will state it was not approved by the group, she said.

The controversy stems from a miscounting by legislative staff that was not discovered until reporters noted the tally failed to garner a majority. Upon questioning, legislative attorney Deborah Gottschalk confirmed she made an error.

According to Rep. Keeley, the fact the vote failed does not prevent it from being available for review by legislators.

“There was a question of a member that requested a vote even though the resolution does not necessarily say ‘on actionable items,’ ok?” she said.

But not only does the resolution that formed the task force state the group will offer “actionable solutions,” it notes any official action needs the consent of a majority of members.

“I’m not sure how you get to discerning the approval of a majority without some sort of vote,” AAA Mid-Atlantic Vice President for Public & Government Affairs Cathy Rossi said.

Should the final document not provide specific recommendations, as argued by Rep. Keeley, the task force has failed to achieve its goals, Ms. Rossi said.

Confusion was rampant in the meeting itself, although that was all surpassed by the vote snafu.

Members spent much of the session discussing on what a vote for the report would mean — whether it indicates support for it or simply notes the minutes contained within are accurate summations of the previous gatherings.

Several refused to endorse the report’s findings, pointing to the fact the product consists of 16 pages as evidence of a lack of key details.

“The breadth and depth of what is probably needed and frankly if I were a lawmaker what I would want or expect … is lacking,” Ms. Rossi said.

Several individuals requested voting at a later date to give them time to review the hundreds of pages of submitted materials, such as presentations shown in past meetings, that will be posted online.

But the co-chairs shot that down, with Rep. Keeley saying she thought opponents were simply trying to stall.

“We could be meeting for five years,” Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, agreed.

Members decided to vote on approving the product and convening again in seven days to make minor technical changes.

Because of the unsuccessful vote and the subsequent confusion, it remains to be seen whether they will meet as planned.

Rep. Keeley shrugged off questions about the group failing to deliver a report by the Feb. 28 due date set forth in a resolution, saying “sometimes task forces actually extend over.”

The draft is a public document, meaning it will be posted online, according to Ms. Gottschalk.

The task force was created to allow lawmakers to iron out concerns posed by those in opposition to legalization. Wednesday was the seventh meeting for the body, which consists of advocates, state officials and medical representatives.

A bill that would allow legal marijuana for adults has been pending in the General Assembly for 11 months, and Rep. Keeley has said several times she thinks the measure is very close to passing the House.

But even if the bill is approved by the House and then the Senate, it has to contend with Gov. John Carney.

“Gov. Carney does not believe now is the time to move forward with legalization, and should instead continue to monitor implementation in other states,” a spokesman said, noting the U.S. Department of Justice has announced an intention to crack down on marijuana, in contrast to the previous administration.