A Delaware House committee voted in favor of a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis earlier this month.
If ultimately passed, the legislation would allow anyone over 21 years to possess, consume, and purchase a set amount of marijuana. The bill includes social equity provisions, such as the expungement of criminal records for individuals with prior possession convictions.
The House Revenue and Finance Committee approved the bill by 8 votes to 3, and it is now on its way to the full chamber for consideration.
“Both the public and elected officials are recognizing that cannabis prohibition is a failed policy and that was reflected in the committee’s approval of HB 110 today,” said Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “We hope the full House will now follow the committee’s lead and vote to replace prohibition with sensible regulation.”
Last year, lawmakers in Delaware’s state House voted for a separate legalization bill, but it did not meet the 60 percent threshold of votes required in the chamber for legislation concerning taxes and fees.
The new bill would be implemented gradually if approved and signed into law. It provides for establishing the role of a state marijuana commissioner who would issue licenses and regulate cannabis businesses. At first, only 15 retail licenses would be issued, with this increasing after three years if there is enough demand.
The commissioner would also be responsible for issuing licenses for five testing facilities, 30 product manufacturers, and 50 cultivation sites. Some of the criteria applicants would be assessed on include diversity objectives, environmental sustainability plans, and the benefits offered to employees.
Applicants would pay a $5,000 fee, and a further $10,000 every two years for retailers, testing facilities, and product manufacturers to renew their license. Once the law comes into effect, an 11-month transition period would begin, with marijuana sales taxed at 25 percent. After the transition period has ended, this would drop to 15 percent.
Tax revenues would go towards the costs of regulating the marijuana industry, with the legislature then responsible for determining which programs additional funds should be allocated to.
A fiscal note to the bill estimated the initial implementation cost to be around $440,000. Annual running costs of the program are expected to be about $1.3 million. The annual revenue of the marijuana industry generated through fees and taxes is projected to be anywhere between $9.4 million to $23.6 million.
Former chief of staff to then-Colarado Gov. John Hickenlopper (D) submitted written testimony to the committee detailing his regret at having voted against his state’s adult-use legalization bill in 2012.
“Most of our elected officials and community leaders were convinced it would lead to increased teen marijuana use, destroy our economy, and hamper the tourism industry, and I shared some of their concerns,” Douglas Friednash wrote. “I’ve now had six-and-a-half years to see the effects firsthand. And, I can can tell you none of this has come true, and my opinion has changed.”
“I urge Delaware, and other states, to follow the lead of Colorado and nine other states and replace cannabis prohibition with thoughtful regulation,” he said.
Judge Gordon McAllister of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership also expressed support for the measure. He said in a press release that a “cornerstone of our democracy is acknowledging that we can always do better,” which is what the legislation does.
“We must change laws to fit the needs and best interests of our communities,” he said.
Even if approved by the full House and Senate, the bill may still face an obstacle in the form of Gov. John Carney (D) who has expressed doubts about regulating cannabis sales.
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