Legalizing marijuana in Delaware: State lawmakers take another shot
Delaware's latest bill to legalize marijuana is expected to get its first floor vote in the House this week, facing what will likely be its biggest hurdle.
The bill to legalize recreational marijuana — House Bill 150 by Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, which would let people 21 years or older buy up to an ounce of weed from a licensed seller — is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Thursday, he said.
Lawmakers have been perennially unsuccessful in the fight to legalize weed in Delaware, but more pressure is on the state than ever before after New Jersey voters legalized it through a ballot initiative in the November election and other nearby states move to follow suit.
If the First State does not legalize it, many residents will simply cross state lines to buy the drug, funnel tax revenue into other governments' coffers and then return home to consume it, advocates said.
It’s unclear whether Gov. John Carney, who has split from most of his party on this issue by not supporting legal weed, would sign the bill into law if the General Assembly passed it. The governor's position against legal weed hasn't changed, a spokesman said on Friday.
Democrats control three-fifths of both the House and Senate, and the bill needs three-fifths of lawmakers' support because it includes a tax. Unlike in the House, Senate Democrats enjoy a two-thirds majority, which gives them an even bigger leg up.
But legal weed is still far from guaranteed. Osienski did not immediately respond to an inquiry on Monday about whether his bill has enough votes in the House.
Democratic lawmakers have historically not been unified around the policy.
Rep. Stephanie Bolden, D-Wilmington, and House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, for example, abstained from voting on a similar proposal in 2018 that contributed to its defeat on the floor.
But some House Republicans like Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman, R-Clayton, who voted for the bill in 2018, could vote yes this week.
Delaware's political environment has also changed since 2018. Younger, more progressive lawmakers have unseated Republicans and moderate Democrats within the past few years, which could give the bill an advantage on Thursday.
Regulating sales of the plant would cost the state more than $3 million a year for the first three years, according to an official financial analysis of the bill.
The analysis does not forecast costs beyond then. Business and license fees would bring in less than $1 million a year, and there is no tax revenue estimate attached to the bill.
Should the bill pass, Delaware would tax the plant at 15%, which is lower than that of most states that have legalized marijuana.
In a January report, State Auditor Kathy McGuiness estimated that Delaware could bring in $43 million a year in revenue if it taxed pot at 20%. That report was released almost two months before the bill was introduced.
Lawmakers are in session until June 30. After that, they go on a six-month break. Because Delaware's legislative session spans two years, any bills they do not pass this year will still be on the table in 2022.
Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.