Delaware House committee to take up marijuana legalization

Cannabis supporters hope opposition not strong enough to stall bill

By Rachel Sawicki
Posted 1/25/22

DOVER — Legalization of recreational marijuana in Delaware is up for debate once again on Wednesday, this time in a session of the Health & Human Development House Committee.

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Delaware House committee to take up marijuana legalization

Cannabis supporters hope opposition not strong enough to stall bill


DOVER — Legalization of recreational marijuana in Delaware is up for debate once again on Wednesday, this time in a session of the Health & Human Development House Committee.

This is the fourth version of an adult-use cannabis reform bill presented in Delaware with the first by Rep. Helen Keeley, D-South Wilmington, and Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, who have since retired. State Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, has sponsored the last three bills, including the current HB305.

The bill allows marijuana to be sold, taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol. Only people 21 years of age and older may purchase and use up to one ounce for personal use.

The bill will also open up a new market for marijuana in Delaware, permitting the operation of marijuana businesses if they operate under a license, but imposes the same limits on hours and holiday sales as apply to salesof alcohol. Marijuana may not be sold in an establishment licensed to sell alcohol.

Consumption of marijuana in public would still be prohibited, as well as consumption by drivers or passengers in vehicles.

While it is likely to pass the House committee, considering many members are also bill sponsors, Laura Sharer, executive director of Delaware NORML, is concerned about loud voices from opposition.

“Quite frankly, I would say that people are holding on to outdated beliefs,” Ms. Sharer said. “It’s hard to let go of what your mom told you was true. But we have presented them decades now of research and clinical data from states that have legalized. There are 16 other states that have a regulatory market, a model to look at to say, the sky has not fallen in these places. And some of them just don’t want to read the information. A lot of them hold on to those outdated fears that this will lead to other things, which we’ve also shown in other areas is not the case.”

Rep. Osienski said he doesn’t see any real concern or surprises for the committee hearing. The bill has made it out of committee several times before, but the next challenge is getting it out of the House and over to the Senate. He mentioned some key changes from HB150, which was stalled last year ahead of a scheduled floor vote due to disagreements about equity provisions.

“This one does have 7 percent of the tax revenue going to a Justice Reinvestment Fund, which I think is a good program,” he said. “The past bill had everything been going to the general fund and some of that money could have been ended up in the programs that address the same issues but … this now takes a small portion of the revenue and dedicates it directly to that.”

The JRF would support grants, services and other initiatives that focus on issues like jail diversion, workforce development and technical assistance for people in communities that are economically disadvantaged and disproportionately impacted by the drug war.

Delaware’s economy could benefit from legalization, bringing jobs, agricultural and economic benefits. As of now, Ms. Sharer said many Delawareans are already making the trek to neighboring legal states to buy, purchase and consume cannabis, and thus supporting the ancillary business, stopping to eat and filling up their gas tanks in the states they visit to buy marijuana.

“It’s not just about the tax dollars that we create for the consumers that choose to buy it,” Ms. Sharer said. “It’s all of the other economic boosts that come with the legalization. Because once Delaware legalizes cannabis, people will come to us just like we will go to them to shop. So we really are missing out — we’re already missing out.”

Ms. Sharer added that should the bill become law, the criminal justice system should see relief.

“People are being arrested for having small amounts,” she said. “They’re being detained or being stripped searched, to see are there any other drugs in our possession? They’re losing revenue and finances. It’s affecting their livelihoods and jobs. These are otherwise law-abiding citizens for something that is scientifically proven to be safer than beer and alcohol.”

Rep. Osiensnki said the bill could potentially make it through the House and Senate this session, but will not go into effect until it makes it past appropriations in markup in early June.

“(Current laws have) been harmful to those that are less fortunate or cannot afford another attorney to get their charges dropped,” he said. “They paid through negative effects on college applications, job applications, housing and other things.”

Lincy Baffone is a former elementary school educator who recently made a career change that allows her to be a more open advocate for cannabis legalization.

“People of all professions in Delaware are just muted and they are unable to speak about why they believe in the benefits of this plant,” she said. “Because they’re afraid of that criminal prosecution or losing their job or all of the above, and even the judgment alone is enough to let someone live in fear.”

Ms. Baffone said she grew up in a household fueled with alcoholism and said she’s seen the negative effects of it, which she believes is not the case with cannabis. This is her first legislative session being an open and active advocate for the bill and thinks a lot of opposition comes from ignorance and stigmas.

“There’s still this ‘reefer madness’ mentality and I think people are afraid to even educate themselves because it is still a crime right now and people don’t want to put themselves in that vulnerable position,” she said.

A 2018 University of Delaware poll revealed that 61% of Delawareans support recreational cannabis legalization, but Ms. Baffone believes that number could be higher now.

“Until this past August, I was petrified of even going to (Delaware event) Weedstock, I was nervous,” she said. “We’re scared of that judgment and that penalty, and I’m sure that number would probably be a little higher if people weren’t so afraid to speak up.”

Family and medical leave bill

Paid family and medical leave may soon be a reality for thousands of working families in Delaware under Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 1, introduced Monday by Sen. Sarah McBride, D-North Wilmington and Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte.

According to a release from Legislative Hall, leadership in both the Senate and House have committed to passing the legislation, which is to be considered in the Senate Health and Social Services Committee, chaired by Sen. McBride, on Wednesday.

More than 50 Delaware-based organizations have called on the General Assembly to pass paid family and medical leave legislation, including the Delaware chapters of the AARP, the League of Women Voters, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Delaware Nurses Association, as well as local labor unions, congregations, businesses, and many other groups.

Currently, fewer than one in five workers nationwide has access to paid family leave through their employer — a lack of financial security that costs working families in the United States about $22.5 billion in lost wages each year, according to the legislation. In Delaware, nearly 60% of workers do not have access to even unpaid leave, and particularly women of color tend to experience disproportionate consequences of unpaid family and medical leave, with 82% of Black mothers, 56% of Latina mothers and 48% of white mothers being the primary breadwinners in their households.

The bill also has support from Gov. John Carney, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, State Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro, Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, and others.

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