Delaware recreational weed legalized

Marijuana legalization is coming to Delaware — without Gov. John Carney’s signature.

Carney announced Friday that he would not take action on a pair of bills legalizing cannabis in the state, which will allow them to become law by default. In a statement, Carney, a Democrat who does not support marijuana legalization, said it was “time to move on.”

“I came to this decision because I believe we’ve spent far too much time focused on this issue, when Delawareans face more serious and pressing concerns every day,” Carney said in a statement.

With Carney’s decision, Delaware becomes the 22nd state to legalize recreational marijuana. Carney said that legalization is “not a step forward,” and that he remains concerned that the state could be negatively impacted by recreational cannabis.

“I’m concerned especially about the potential effects on Delaware’s children, on the safety of our roadways, and on our poorest neighborhoods, where I believe a legal marijuana industry will have a disproportionately negative impact,” Carney said.

State Rep. Ed Osienski (D., Newark), the bills’ primary sponsor, said in a statement that he understands Carney’s misgivings, and that he appreciates “him listening to the thousands of residents who support this effort.”

“After five years of countless meetings, debates, negotiations, and conversations, I’m grateful we have reached the point where Delaware has joined a growing number of states that have legalized and regulated adult recreational marijuana for personal use,” Osienski said. “I am committed to working with the administration to ensure that the effort to establish the regulatory process goes as smoothly as possible.”

Laura Sharer, executive director of the Delaware chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, hailed the move as a “significant step towards creating a fair system.”

“After years of advocacy, collaboration, and grassroots organizing, we are thrilled to see cannabis legalization become a reality in our state,” Sharer said. “Delaware lawmakers have taken a progressive and equitable approach to cannabis policy.”

News of Carney’s decision came on the one-year anniversary of New Jersey’s official launch of its recreational marijuana market. The state, which borders Delaware, began recreational sales on April 21, 2022, missing the annual marijuana holiday of 4/20 by one day. One year into legalization, New Jersey has some of the highest prices for adult-use marijuana in the country.

Pennsylvania, another neighbor, has only a medical marijuana market, and has made little headway in pursuing full legalization. However, Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed taxing legal, adult-use marijuana at a rate of 20%, and several legislators announced their intent to file legalization bills earlier this year.

The legislation legalizing marijuana in Delaware is broken into two bills. The first, House Bill 1, allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, as well as equivalent amounts in other forms, such as concentrates and edibles. Public consumption and growing marijuana remain illegal, and people under 21 who are caught with marijuana may face fines of up to $100 for a first offense.

The second, House Bill 2, creates a regulatory framework for a legal adult-use marijuana industry. As part of that legislation, the state will issue 30 retail licenses for dispensaries, 30 manufacturing licenses, and 60 cultivation licenses, along with a $15 tax on retail sales. Osienski told The Inquirer earlier this month that that process may take about a year and a half.

Carney was sent the bills last week, which began a 10-day timeline under Delaware’s state constitution for the governor to sign the bills, veto them, or do nothing, which allows them to become law. The 10-day clock for House Bill 1 runs out on Saturday, while House Bill 2 becomes law without Carney’s signature on Wednesday.

Carney said Delaware’s regulatory system for legal marijuana will be “robust.”

“We will do everything in our power to protect children from accessing marijuana and marijuana-related products; prevent Delawareans and Delaware visitors from driving under the influence of marijuana; and closely evaluate the placement of marijuana dispensaries and other businesses, to ensure they do not become a blight on already disadvantaged communities,” Carney said.

Carney’s decision stands in contrast to last year, when he vetoed a similar effort. Lawmakers were unable to override that veto.

Osienski earlier this month urged Delawareans to have patience with legalization.

“We want to make sure we get this right,” Osienski said. “People have been waiting 50-some years. They can wait a little longer to get this set up correctly.”

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