Delaware’s Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads to House Floor Despite Governor’s ‘Concerns’

DOVER, Del. – A bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana by adults in Delaware lifted its first legislative hurdle Wednesday as a Democrat-led committee voted along party lines, with just one GOP vote , to send the measure to the House.

The bill creates a state-controlled and licensed pot industry that supporters say will eliminate the black market while creating jobs and increasing state tax coffers.

While the proposal enjoys significant support among Democratic lawmakers, Democratic Gov. John Carney has expressed concerns about legalization.

“The governor’s position has not changed,” Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey said on Wednesday. “He supported the decriminalization and expansion of Delaware’s medical marijuana program. But he still has concerns about legalizing recreational marijuana. “

Carney, however, did not say whether he would veto the legislation if it made it to his office.

Critics argue that legalization will do little to eliminate the black market and lead to an increase in underage marijuana use, more road deaths and injuries, and more people with mental health and disability issues. substance addiction.

Supporters say critics’ concerns are unfounded and exaggerated, and that people will continue to smoke marijuana whether it is legal or not. More than a dozen states have legalized marijuana for adults.

“Who do you want to control this market, the drug dealers or the citizens of Delaware?” Asked John Sybert, vice president of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network.

The bill legalizes the possession and use of up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana by adults over the age of 21. People would not be allowed to grow their own plants, and public consumption and driving under the influence would be prohibited.

The bill establishes a marijuana tax, described as a 15% point-of-sale “enforcement fee”, which the sponsors say compares favorably to other states where pot is legal and would keep prices competitive with existing street values ​​on the black market.

The legislation would create an office of the Marijuana Control Commissioner to regulate the industry and initially allow 30 retail store licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and five testing facility licenses.

Licenses for retail, testing and product manufacturing facilities would cost $ 10,000 every two years. Growing licenses would depend on the size, facility and type of property, ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 10,000 every two years.

The legislation reserves a number of licenses for “social equity” and “micro-enterprise” applicants.

Social equity claimants are defined as those who live in an area disproportionately affected by marijuana laws, who have been convicted of a marijuana-related offense, or whose parent is convicted of an offense related to marijuana. They would be entitled to technical assistance, reduced fees, loans and rating preferences in licensing.

Microenterprise applicants, whose primary sponsor, Representative Ed Osienski vs. Craft Brewers, are expected to be majority owned by Delaware residents and also be entitled to reduced fees and an adjusted points scale for licensing scoring. cultivation and manufacturing of products.

The scoring system would reward applicants who pay “wages to support the family,” who provide employer-paid health insurance and other benefits, hire more full-time workers, and support diversity. Workforce.

The commissioner would also be required to consider whether an applicant has agreed to use union labor for the construction or renovation of a facility, or whether he has agreed not to disrupt union efforts to organize. his employees.

“It’s part of our community benefits goal,” Osienski, a retired sprinkler installers union salesperson, told Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford.

“It seems to me that excludes a whole series of businesses in the private market,” Shupe replied. “… Why is this considered a community benefit?” “

While the bill allows employers to ban the use of marijuana by employees at work and discipline those under the influence at work, representatives from the business community have said it must explicitly allow them to put implement and enforce zero tolerance policies, both on and off the job.

Meanwhile, state finance officials have expressed concern about how sales would be handled and taxes paid in what is often a largely cash-based business. Since marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, federally regulated banks have been reluctant to process payments or deposits related to the marijuana industry.

“We as a state certainly don’t want to hold this money in cash,” said Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger.

Randall Chase of The Associated Press wrote this story.

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