Delaware Governor, A Democrat, Vetoes Cannabis Legalization Bill

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Saying that “promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state,” Delaware Governor John Carney has vetoed a bill that would have legalized cannabis for adults aged 21 and older.

Carney, a second-term Democrat, detailed his opposition to House Bill 371, which Delaware lawmakers passed earlier this month, in a veto announcement on Tuesday.

“House Bill No. 371 would, among other things, remove all penalties for possession by a person 21 years of age or older of one ounce or less of marijuana and ensure that there are no criminal or civil penalties for transfers without remuneration of one ounce or less of marijuana between persons who are 21 years of age or older,” Carney explained, before drawing a distinction between his position on medicinal cannabis and recreational pot use.

“I recognize the positive effect marijuana can have for people with certain health conditions, and for that reason, I continue to support the medical marijuana industry in Delaware,” he said. “I supported decriminalization of marijuana because I agree that individuals should not be imprisoned solely for the possession and private use of a small amount of marijuana—and today, thanks to Delaware’s decriminalization law, they are not.”

“That said, I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people,” the governor continued. “Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved.”

The bill now returns to the state’s General Assembly, where Democrats hold majorities in both chambers.

The Delaware News Journal reported that the legislation would “need to receive a three-fifths vote in each chamber to override the veto,” a threshold that the initial vote passed.

But the outlet also noted that it “is incredibly rare for the Delaware General Assembly to override a governor’s veto,” with the last successful override coming in 1977.

The veto is particularly frustrating, given the Democrats’ control of the Delaware state government. Large majorities of Democratic voters nationwide support cannabis legalization, a position that is fast becoming a consensus among the party’s elected officials, as well.

But Carney has long voiced his opposition to recreational pot use.

“Look, I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” Carney said in an interview last year. “If you talk to the parents of some of these folks that have overdosed and passed away they don’t think it’s a good idea because they remember the trajectory of their own sons and daughters.“

For pro-legalization lawmakers in Delaware, getting the bill passed and on Carney’s desk proved challenging. In March, a legalization bill in the state House won the support of a majority of members, but it fell short of the three-fifths threshold necessary for a tax bill to be approved.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state House Rep. Ed Osienski, noted the state’s “unique” status, saying that Delaware “is the only state in the country with a Democratic governor and Democrat-controlled legislature that has not approved legalization.”

Osienski and his fellow lawmakers produced a revised bill that passed both the state Senate and state House earlier this month.

But on Tuesday, the bill hit a wall in the form of the governor’s veto power.

“I respect the Legislative Branch’s role in this process, and I understand that some hold a different view on this issue. However, I have been clear about my position since before I took office, and I have articulated my concerns many times,” Carney said in his statement. “For the reasons stated above, I am hereby vetoing HB 371 by returning it to the House of Representatives without my signature.”

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