Delaware House Passes Historic Cannabis Legalization Bill


Members of the Delaware state House on Thursday passed legislation that would eliminate all penalties for adults aged 21 and older having up to an ounce of weed in their possession, a move that local media is describing as “a historic first step” toward cannabis legalization in the state.

Lawmakers in the chamber passed the bill early in the evening “with a vote of 26-14, which included bipartisan support from Republican Representatives Michael Smith of Pike Creek and Jeffrey Spiegelman of Clayton,” according to the Delaware News Journal.

The bill’s passage on Thursday comes nearly two months after a separate legalization measure failed to make it out of the Delaware House, where Democrats hold the majority. 

Lawmakers in the House voted for that bill 23-14, but as the Associated Press noted at the time, “it required a three-fifths majority of 25 votes.”

That bill would have legalized possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults aged 21 and older, and would have established a state-regulated cannabis industry. 

After the bill fell short in March, lawmakers went back to the drawing board and decided to separate the main components of the bill—the legalization of possession and the creation of a market—into two separate pieces of legislation. 

As the Delaware News Journal reported, “there are some early signs that [splitting the measures into two bills] could be a successful approach.” 

According to Delaware public radio station WHYY, the bill dealing with cannabis regulation and taxes “has cleared a House committee but no vote has been scheduled yet,” although the station indicated that the vote “is expected in the coming weeks.”

The bill pertaining to possession now heads to the state Senate, where Democrats also hold the majority. 

According to WHYY, “Representative Ed Osienski, the lead House sponsor, predicts the bill will pass the Senate.” 

Osienski was also the sponsor of the larger cannabis bill, HB 305, that failed to make it out of the House earlier this session, which prompted him to split the measure into two.

“HB 305 had the whole regulatory system in there for the industry of cultivating, manufacturing, and selling marijuana in the state of Delaware and it had a tax on it, which meant it would require 25 [votes], which is a hard threshold to meet,” Osienski said last month. “I figured, at least we can move forward with legalization with a simple majority of 21. I do have 21 House co-sponsors on the bill, so I think I’m pretty fairly confident that, unless something dramatically changes, that will pass and end prohibition.”

But even if either of the bills make it out of the legislature, there is no guarantee that they will be signed into law.

The state’s Democratic governor, John Carney, has made it clear previously that he is no fan of cannabis legalization.

“Look, I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” Carney told Delaware Public Media 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,” he continued. “And I’m not suggesting that that’s always a gateway for all that, but if you talk to those Attack Addiction advocates they don’t think it’s a very good idea.”

“As I look at other states that have it, it just doesn’t seem to me to be a very positive thing from the strength of the community, of the economy in their states,” Carney said. “Is it the worst thing in the world? No, of course not.”

The cannabis possession bill that passed the House on Thursday might have enough support to overcome Carney’s opposition. Per WHYY, “the 26 yes votes in the House are one more than needed to override a veto.”


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