lPublished 9:22 a.m. ET March 30, 2017 |
Delaware's first bill to legalize recreational marijuana is expected to be unveiled today.
The draft legislation reportedly would allow state residents 21 and older to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis from dozens of stores authorized to sell the drug, which is now limited only to patients enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program.
The bill is expected to be formally introduced by chief sponsors Rep. Helene Keeley and Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, both Wilmington Democrats.
Henry, who penned Delaware's 2011 medical marijuana bill, first announced plans to seek legalization for recreational consumption last fall.
"It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Henry told the state Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee in October. “But it’s time, quite frankly. It’s time to certainly look at it.”
A poll conducted by the University of Delaware last year found that more than 60 percent of state residents support full legalization of marijuana.
Gov. John Carney is not one of them, however.
The state, his office noted, is still working to get its medical marijuana program fully operational and only recently approved a law decriminalizing marijuana, downgrading possession of an ounce from a criminal offense to a civil violation, like a parking ticket.
Carney has said he also wants to allow more time to study the impact of legalization efforts in the eight other jurisdictions that have approved such measures, including Colorado, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.
A great deal of uncertainty still remains over how the Trump administration plans to deal with state-led marijuana initiatives. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, even for medicinal use
The White House has indicated it may be willing to allow medical marijuana programs to continue unfettered while signaling a potential crackdown on states that have legalized cannabis for recreational use. The National District Attorney's Association has created a policy group to advise the White House on possible laws or policy changes.
Local advocates for legalization, including Delaware NORML and the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, argue a move to make Delaware the ninth state to allow recreational use would be a boon for the economy. Taxes on recreational marijuana, they say, could go a long way in helping the state close its current $386 million budget hole and create hundreds of new jobs.
"We're the only industry that is actually asking to be taxed and regulated," Zoe Patchell, executive director of the 65-member cannabis network, told The News Journal this week. "And in the process, you replace what is now a completely illicit market with one that is safe, encourages competition and promotes shared prosperity."
Nearly 2,750 Delawareans are currently licensed to purchase medical marijuana from the state's lone dispensary near Wilmington. A second dispensary is expected to open in Lewes in the coming weeks with a third in Kent County moving toward operation this fall.
Some of the state's medical marijuana patients have recently argued that the limited access currently available has led to exorbitant prices and the strains they rely on frequently being sold out.
Legalization advocates argue that allowing shops catering to recreational use would address those issues many of those issues through free market competition.
The NAACP Delaware State Conference is joining those advocates in lobbying the General Assembly to pass a legalization bill. They say the war on drugs has created a racially-biased criminal justice system that results in the disproportionate arrest of African-Americans.
"We believe it's time to direct attention and resources towards reducing heroin and opioid-related deaths and crime," Delaware NAACP President Linwood Jackson said in a release. "Tax revenue generated from cannabis sales will benefit our citizens and state.”
A press conference on the draft legalization bill is slated to be held Thursday afternoon, just hours before Carney's first address to a joint session of the General Assembly.
At the same time, AAA Mid-Atlantic is holding a summit in Wilmington on drugged driving. The organization says its research shows an alarming increase in the proportion of drivers involved in fatal crashes in those state that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Currently, there is no test to determine the intoxication level of drivers who ingest marijuana comparable to breathalyzers that gauge blood-alcohol content.
“For whatever marijuana might raise in revenue, its legalization comes at a potentially high cost to society and safety, including new threats on our roads,” said Cathy Rossi, vice president of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Contact business reporter Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ScottGossDel.