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Delaware Lawmakers Revive Pot Legalization Effort

Two separate bills were approved by Delaware legislators Wednesday to allow for legalization of cannabis. Last month, the Delaware House of Representatives did not approve a comprehensive plan to legalize marijuana for adult consumption and to regulate cannabis businesses.

House Bill 371 is the first bill to come out of committee. This measure would permit adults to legally possess one ounce or more of cannabis. Representative Ed Osienski, the sponsor of the legislation, explained to Delaware Public Media that the bill “legalizes the personal possession of an ounce or less, but it still is illegal to be under 21 in possession, possessing over an ounce, and it’s still illegal to drive impaired.” He noted it would also still be against the law to smoke cannabis in public.

Osienski feels that HB371 can be passed by seperating legalization from taxing and regulating commercial cannabis. HB371 will not pass without the simple majority required by law. On Wednesday, the House Health and Human Development Committee approved the bill.

“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 told WDEL. “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.”

A separate bill to regulate cannabis commerce

House Bill 372, a separate Osienski measure, was passed by the House Revenue and Finance Committee Wednesday. The bill would regulate commercial cannabis production and sales, authorizing 30 retail licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and 5 testing licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill’s effective date. Retail cannabis sales are subject to a 15% tax.

Paul Baumbach, Representative voted for HB372. According to him, the bill is significantly different from the March law that was rejected in March.

“This is a different bill than what we looked at last month,” said Baumbach. “This says when marijuana is legal in Delaware do we want it taxed and regulated? This is what I believe, but I am not sure about the reality. I think everyone would want to have it taxed and regulated.”

Representative Mike Ramone voted to keep HB372 out of the committee. He claimed that the bill involves too much government involvement with the cannabis industry.

“I would like to see a different format of that maybe even a digestion from process that is already there whether it’s through the smoke shops or the liquor stores or even a blend. I just think we’re doing an awful lot,” said Ramone. “I also do not like the fact of taxing them. I think that keeps the black market more active.”

Osienski claims that it will be simpler to decriminalize cannabis if you separate the issue of possession from regulation. He hopes it will make regulation of commerce more appealing to people who are opposed to the idea.

“I’m hoping I won’t need their vote on legalization, but if they will then vote for regulation, we can possibly get both of these bills through,” said Osienski. “That’s my goal, and always was—that’s why I ran with the single bill that did both.”

“If, for some reason, regulation does not pass, I’ll come back next year and continue to push for it because I still feel an important aspect of these bills is ending the illegal market eventually,” he added. “So, until we have a regulated framework to allow businesses to grow, the illegal markets are going to continue, and that, to me, is not acceptable. I will keep on fighting to get the regulations and the industry set up, which is going to create jobs.”