On May 5, the Delaware House voted, 26-14, to pass legislation that would allow adults 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis.
On June 7, that same chamber voted, 20-20, on the same legislation.
The only thing that changed between those two votes was Democratic Gov. John Carney’s veto, which was enough to sway six representatives from honoring what most Delawareans support. That legislation, House Bill 371, and the hopes for broader reform via a regulated and taxed industry are now dead for the year.
The Delaware General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn June 30 without a meaningful path forward on cannabis reform, a defeat that comes after the bicameral Legislature originally sent H.B. 371 to Carney’s desk with supermajority support in both chambers—the Senate passed the bill on a 13-7 vote on May 12.
House Assembly members who voted no on June 7, after previously voting yes on May 5, include Democratic Reps. Andria Bennett, William Carson and Sean Matthews, and Republican Reps. Michael Ramone and Jeffrey Spiegelman.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Valerie Longhurst did not vote June 7, after previously voting yes. And Democratic Rep. Stephanie Bolden voted no June 7, after previously not voting.
Before that vote, Democratic Rep. Ed Osienski, who sponsored H.B. 371, addressed his colleagues in the chamber about the opportunity they had before them.
“We had a brief victory on May 12, when the Senate passed House Bill 371,” he said. “We ended 50 years of prohibition and criminalization. We removed penalties for possession of under 1 ounce of marijuana for persons 21 years of age and older. And, most importantly, we did what a majority of Delawareans asked us to do.”
Osienski’s push for cannabis reform policies comes at a time when 71% of Delawareans support broad legalization, according to Civiqs polling.
Despite public support, Carney said in his May 24 veto statement that he has been clear about his position against cannabis legalization since before he took office in 2017 and has articulated those concerns many times since.
Osienski said the people of Delaware and the General Assembly have also been clear on their position.
“We cannot, nor should not, ignore the will of this body, nor the will of the people who voted to send us to Dover,” he said Tuesday. “The governor has made it clear he wishes us to wait until 2025, but the majority of Delawareans don’t agree. I feel we’re missing an opportunity here:19 states around the United States have passed this legislation.”
Osienski added, “Some of them have been functioning now for over a decade, and nobody has come back to say this was a mistake. Nobody has come back and said, ‘We need to repeal this.’ They have learned a way to work out the problems. And I know Delaware is capable of that.”
While H.B. 371 aimed to legalize simple possession, Osienski is also sponsoring companion legislation, H.B. 372, which aims to establish a regulated and taxed adult-use cannabis industry in Delaware.
Osienski had planned to bring that legislation up for a vote this month on House floor —after it previously came one vote shy of passage amidst a key supporter’s absence last month—but he said Tuesday that there was no path forward on H.B. 372 without overturning the governor’s veto on H.B. 371.
“We need to have this freedom and this liberty for Delawareans to be able to purchase good, regulated product that is safe, and it does not get into the hands of children,” Osienski said. “New Jersey did it, and New Jersey is being very successful. [In] the first month, they brought in over $25 million in sales. To me, that’s $25 million that’s not in the illegal market.”
He added, “We need legalization. So, I beg of my colleagues not to wait until 2025 to do this, but to override this veto and then we can work together on the regulation and taxation.”
Without the 25 House votes needed to override Carney’s veto, Delawareans will have to wait longer until they can enjoy “the freedom and the liberty” of being able to possess small amounts of cannabis.
Carney, who is term-limited, cannot seek reelection in November 2024.
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