Guest Opinion: NORML: Carney must not veto cannabis reforms


Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

For the second year in a row, lawmakers have advanced legislation (House Bill 1) to Gov. John Carney’s desk legalizing marijuana possession by adults. A separate bill (House Bill 2), establishing rules and regulations governing the retail sale of cannabis products to those age 21 and older, also awaits gubernatorial action. Gov. Carney would be wise to listen to the will of the majority of Delawareans and sign these important commonsense measures into law.

Legalization neither creates nor normalizes the marijuana market. This market already exists in Delaware. But, under a policy of prohibition, this market remains underground, and those involved in it largely remain unaccountable. They don’t pay taxes, they don’t check IDs, and they don’t test the purity of their products. Disputes that arise in the underground marketplace are not adjudicated in courts of law.

By contrast, legalization and regulation allows for state and local lawmakers to establish legal parameters regarding where, when and how the cannabis market operates. These regulations also provide oversight regarding who may participate in said markets and provide guidelines, so that those who do can engage in best practices.

Such regulations already exist for alcohol and tobacco — two substances that are far more dangerous and costlier to society than the responsible adult use of cannabis. The imposition and enforcement of tobacco and alcohol regulations, coupled with evidence-based public awareness campaigns highlighting these products’ risks and acknowledging the distinctions between their use versus abuse, has proven effective at reducing their consumption, especially among adolescents. In fact, according to recent federal government survey data, teens’ use of alcohol and cigarettes now stand at or near historic lows.

None of the 21 states that have enacted adult-use legalization has ever repealed or even rolled back their laws, and Gallup reported in 2021 that public support for these policies has never been higher. That is because these policies are largely working as politicians and voters intended, and they are preferable to prohibition.

Studies affirm that licensed cannabis retailers seldom, if ever, sell products to customers who lack proper ID. Data published last year in the Journal of Safety Research reported that, in California, where the adult-use market is regulated, “There was 100% compliance with the ID policy to keep underage patrons from purchasing marijuana directly from licensed outlets. … Underage youth are not obtaining marijuana at licensed recreational outlets.”

Furthermore, data provided in February by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the percentage of high schoolers who report having used cannabis over the past 30 days fell from 23% in 2011 to 16% in 2021. This downward trend overlaps with the period that nearly half of U.S. states have implemented legalization.

It is time to move away from the failed policy of cannabis prohibition and move forward in a different direction — one that legalizes, regulates and educates. Ultimately, the establishment of a pragmatic regulatory framework allowing for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or abuse.

That is why a supermajority of Delaware lawmakers have voted in favor of HB 1 and HB 2. Gov. Carney should allow them to become law.

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