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Delaware Lawmakers Fail To Override Veto of Weed Legalization Bill

On Tuesday, Delaware’s House of Representatives did not override the veto of a bill that would have legalized small amounts of marijuana. It likely ended hopes of meaningful reforms in cannabis law for Delaware during the rest of 2018. The House members voted 20-20 to repeal the veto. However, they failed to achieve the required three-fifths vote.

House Bill 371, a Democratic Representative Ed Osienski, would have allowed adults to own up to 1 ounces of cannabis. Osienski introduced this bill in April, along with another measure, to establish a regulated marijuana industry. This was after an earlier comprehensive proposal to legalize cannabis commerce and possession failed.

Osienski has said that the bill to regulate recreational production and sales, House Bill 372, would create good jobs “while striking a blow against the criminal element which profits from the thriving illegal market for marijuana in our state.” But the measure failed in the House last month despite being favored in the vote 24-14, but failing to reach the 60% supermajority required because the bill includes a 15% tax on cannabis sales.

HB371 passed better. It was approved by the House in a 26-14 vote on May 5. The Delaware Senate passed the measure with a 13-7 vote on May 5. It then sent the bill to Democratic Governor John Carney. On May 24, Carney, who was concerned about the safety and economic impacts of legalizing recreational marijuana, vetoed it.

“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,” Carney said in his message vetoing HB 371. “Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved.”

Veto Override Failure Delaware

Lawmakers got the chance to override Carney’s veto with Tuesday’s vote but failed to reach the threshold necessary. Three Democrats and two Republicans voted for the bill in May. However, five House members, including three Democrats, changed their vote to support the override effort. Valerie Longhurst, Democratic House Majority Leader and voted in favor of the bill in May. However, she did not vote for the override bid despite her presence in the chamber.

Following Tuesday’s unsuccessful veto override vote, Osienski said on the House floor that he was proud he had “been fighting for something that such a large majority of Delawareans wanted.”

“It’s kind of what I feel they sent me down there to do, and I am appreciative of all the work I’ve done with my colleagues,” he said. “But most of all,” he added, his voice breaking. “I feel good that I was working for Delaware.”

Cannabis activists, about 100 of whom rallied at the state capitol in Dover to encourage lawmakers to override Carney’s veto, were disappointed by the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.

Efforts to legalize cannabis in Delaware are “over, in my opinion,” said Brian Warnock, who waited after the rally to witness the outcome of the vote. “It’s especially disappointing because [Carney’s]A Democrat. This was a Democratic bill.”

“The only thing that’s going to happen,” he added, “is everybody’s going to get on the ferry and go over to New Jersey. It’s not going to stop anybody from getting pot. It’s just going to cost us millions of dollars.”

Mason Tvert, a longtime activist for cannabis, is a partner in the cannabis policy firm VS Strategies. He stated that the defeated HB371 keeps the current status quo of marijuana prohibition.

“It’s stunning to see such a sensible, broadly supported policy proposal derailed by a governor’s veto and a handful of lawmakers’ unwillingness to stand up to him,” Tvert wrote in an email to Chronic News. “This will not prevent adults in Delaware from accessing cannabis; it just ensures that cannabis will be purchased in other states or in the illegal market. It is a shame that adults in Delaware will continue to be treated like criminals simply for consuming a product that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”

Osienski said that Carney’s opposition to legalization comes despite data that show 61% of the state’s voters are in favor of reform.

“The governor has made it clear he wishes us to wait until 2025, but the majority of Delawareans don’t agree,” he said.