Delaware is poised to become the 22nd state to legalize cannabis for adults.
On Tuesday, the Delaware Senate voted 16-4 to advance HB 1, which removes penalties for personal cannabis possession, and voted 15-5 to advance HB 2, which addresses taxation and regulation for sales.
Both bills, as Cannabis Wire reported, were introduced in January by Rep. Edward Osienski, a Democrat, and cleared the House earlier this month.
In Delaware, Democrats control the legislature but Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, has remained opposed to legalization. Last year, he vetoed a bill similar to HB 1 that managed to reach his desk. However, he is engaging: Osienski proposed an amendment, which the House approved, to HB 2 that “makes technical corrections and clarifications requested by the Office of the Governor.” If the votes remain as is, there is enough support to override a veto.
When providing an overview of HB 1 on Tuesday, Sen. Trey Paradee, who spearheaded the legislation in the Senate, said to laughter, “Well, well, well. Here we are again.” He then referenced something he said in 2018, when the House voted against an adult use bill, about the inevitability of legalization.
“Today is that day,” Paradee said on Tuesday. “I understood then, as I do now, that the legalization of adult use, recreational marijuana is inevitable because it is the will of the people.”
A couple of other amendments were proposed on Tuesday, both from Republican Sen. Eric Buckson, who said he opposes HB 2, including one that would have struck a requirement that cannabis businesses have “labor peace agreements.” Both were rejected.
Lawmakers who opposed the bills voiced the same concerns on Tuesday that have been raised throughout the debates over the bills: fear over increased youth use, impaired driving, workplace impairment, and mental health issues.
If signed into law, the bills would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis, of which up to five grams can be concentrated. However, adults will not be allowed to home grow.
The legislation would create the new Delaware Marijuana Control Act Oversight Committee to oversee the implementation of regulations and would conduct a review of legalization’s impacts on public safety and health.
A Marijuana Commissioner would be in charge of establishing regulations and issuing cannabis business licenses. The Act lays out certain regulatory parameters, such as requirements that cannabis products be in child-resistant packaging.
Cannabis business licenses fall into five categories: retail, testing, cultivation, product manufacturing, and microbusiness. Some licenses will be reserved for social equity applicants, who would also be eligible for financial and technical assistance.
Within 16 months after HB 2 goes into effect, Paradee said on Tuesday, regulators would issue up to 30 retail licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses, and five testing licenses. Of these, half of the retail licenses, two of the testing licenses, and one-third of the cultivation and manufacturing licenses would be reserved for social equity applicants.
Tax revenue would go into two funds: a Marijuana Regulation Fund and a Justice Reinvestment Fund. Retail cannabis will be taxed at 15%, and 7% of that will go into the Justice Reinvestment Fund.
One provision of HB 2 would allow for a state tax deduction that offsets the fact that cannabis companies are not able to deduct the same expenses from federal taxes as other businesses.
Osienski has worked on adult use legislation for years, making adjustments along the way. In 2021, after several amendments were proposed on his adult use bill, he canceled a House vote on the bill and urged patience, as Cannabis Wire reported at the time.
“This is one piece of legislation that we have to get right, and I encourage my fellow legislators, advocates and supporters of the bill to please be patient as we continue to work toward the goal of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Delaware,” he said.