DE: Sparks Fly Over Marijuana Legalization

Ron Strider

Well-Known Member
Politically influential opponents of Delaware's marijuana legalization bill voiced their concerns Thursday in a roundtable conversation with Gov. John Carney and the bill's sponsors.

A gaggle of cannabis legalization activists watched on and many offered opinions during a comment session, resulting in a lively and largely measured debate about the future of marijuana in Delaware.

At question is House Bill 110, or the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, which would regulate the recreational use of less than one ounce of marijuana "in the same manner as alcohol."

The measure could come up for a vote in the General Assembly this month. If passed, Delaware would become the ninth state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Private cultivation of marijuana would remain illegal. As a result, cannabis retailers would be part of a state-authorized marijuana industry that also would include cultivation facilities, testing companies and manufacturing businesses.

Opponents say it would erode Delaware's safety on roads and increase medical costs.

While children would not be allowed to use marijuana under the bill, those in opposition also worry the measure could change young people's perceptions about marijuana's safety.

"To commercialize the recreational use of marijuana in Delaware is a serious gamble on public safety," said Jim Lardear, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

A co-sponsor, Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, said the measure would "legalize and regulate and tax" marijuana. Baumbach compared a ban on marijuana to prohibition of alcohol nearly 100 years ago.

It "did not stop alcohol use. It put it under the cover of darkness," Baumbach said.

Lead sponsor Rep. Helene Keeley, D-South Wilmington, who also attended the roundtable, noted discussions with opponents can lead to positive changes in the bill.

She and Baumbach will need a two-thirds vote in both houses of the General Assembly to pass, or 14 senators and 28 representatives — a super-majority because the bill contains new criminal penalties.

Also at the roundtable, Jeffrey Horvath, executive director of the Delaware Police Chiefs Council, cited a recent trip to Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal. He said he learned that legalization could increase crime because legal growers can export the plant to other states, where it remains prohibited.

Marijuana-related hospital visits also increased, he said. Yet, Horvath suggested, Colorado officials are hiding negative effects of legalization.

"Colorado still wants us to vacation there, and they still want us to send our children to college there," he said.

As the conversation was opened to members of the public, it became emotional, at times veering beyond the scope of the legislation.

Advocates questioned why society should allow cigarettes and alcohol, but not marijuana. Opponents asked why we should add another drug to that list.

People who had dealt with addiction came down on both sides of the debate — some recounting wasted youths from smoking marijuana and others saying cannabis saved them from the torture of opiate addiction.

Newark resident Michael Wirtschafter said he has been able to rid his body and his medicine cabinet of "harsh" prescription painkillers because of marijuana.

"Anyone over 21 should be allowed to have the choice," he said.

The two sides also disputed basic facts about the drug, including its addictiveness, something the governor noted during his closing remarks.

"There were a lot of data and studies shot back and forth. It seems to me we ought to try to get on the same page," Carney said.

Carney organized Thursday's roundtable after he held a similar one for marijuana advocates on April 19 — one day before a widely-recognized marijuana celebration day among those who use it.

The governor on Thursday reiterated his skepticism of legalization, saying he believes Delaware should wait until more evidence about the effects of the new law emerge from states, such as Colorado and Washington.

The bill also would not fix Delaware current $400 million budget deficit.

"We have a budget problem that has to be resolved with a balanced budget by June 30," he said.


News Moderator: Ron Strider 420 MAGAZINE ®
Full Article: Sparks fly over marijuana legalization
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