DOVER — After months of deliberation between legislators, a bill that would implement taxes and regulations on the sale of marijuana failed in the House of Representatives by one vote Thursday.
Its sponsor, however, isn’t giving up.
House Bill 372 was one of two bills that Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, introduced after the March 10 defeat of his previous marijuana legislation, HB 305, which would have legalized and regulated marijuana under the Delaware Marijuana Control Act.
After that bill’s defeat, HB 372 was introduced to cover the tax and regulation side of marijuana sales, while HB 371 was introduced to address legalization. The latter bill has passed both the House and the Senate and awaits the governor’s signature.
After HB 372 was defeated Thursday, Rep. Osienski changed his vote to no, allowing for another vote on the House floor in the future. With HB 305 failing by two votes and HB 372 failing by one, the lawmaker said the process has not gone as planned, but he still believes this legislation is consistent with the interest of Delawareans.
“It’s very frustrating. It’s kind of head-scratching to keep coming up one or two votes short. I feel like every time I pick up a vote, I lose a vote. I was really optimistic (Thursday). Everything looked good,” he said.
One of HB 372’s co-sponsors, Rep. Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere, missed Thursday’s House session, due to illness, Rep. Osienski said. Rep. Mitchell’s support of HB 372 and HB 305 would have led to a yes vote that passed the legislation, he added.
Rep. Osienski said he expects the legislation to be heard again once lawmakers return from the General Assembly’s recess in early June.
Prior to Thursday’s defeat, an amendment to the bill was brought forth by Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington, which stated that the city of Wilmington has the authority to promulgate rules for the location of marijuana establishments. After the amendment was passed, Rep. Bolden, who voted against HB 305, voted yes for HB 372.
“I’m always open for considering amendments that could help me with improving the vote count because, at the end of the day, you need votes to pass the legislation,” Rep. Osienski said.
“I was fine with the inclusion of Rep. Bolden’s amendment because, if it made her more comfortable to support the bill, it was something I was more than willing to do.”
As HB 372’s future lingers, HB 371 — which would legalize the use of recreational marijuana — is poised for the governor’s approval. That act passed in both the House and the Senate, so its fate is up to Gov. John Carney, who has previously expressed his opposition to legalization.
“The governor may end up vetoing HB 371, and if he does, we’re gonna have to figure out how to make up for that because, without legalization, we can’t have a regulated market. So this could continue to be a struggle,” Rep. Osienski said.
“It’s a possibility, but I can’t worry about it. My job is to get legislation onto his desk, so we’ll see what happens.”
Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network president Zoë Patchell said it has been disappointing to continuously see marijuana legalization and regulation legislation fail despite the support from Delawareans and lawmakers. Ms. Patchell said it would be especially frustrating if Gov. Carney decides to veto the HB 371 despite the support for it.
“In a year where people really need to know their government works for them, we’re really hoping the governor respects the will of the three-fifths supermajority of lawmakers and the overwhelming support that this legislation has, regardless of how he feels about it personally,” Ms. Patchell said.
She said HB 371 and HB 372 would protect 1 in 5 Delawareans from having a police encounter that could result in a search, costly fines or the threat of arrest for conduct that is already legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C.
“Gov. Carney has made comments condemning the issue that occurred in Georgia with Delaware State University students,” Ms. Patchell said, referring to last month’s traffic stop of a DSU bus and subsequent search of its occupants’ luggage.
“It’s easy to point fingers at Georgia for doing something like that, but that occurs here in the state of Delaware on a weekly basis under the pretext of cannabis prohibition. Law-abiding citizens are stopped by law enforcement under the guise of the odor of cannabis, and their Fourth Amendment constitutional protections are circumvented, where law enforcement does not need to have their consent and (does) not need to obtain a warrant in order to search an individual.”
Ms. Patchell said her agency is coordinating efforts for outreach activities, including knocking on neighborhood doors, canvassing and calling residents to encourage Delawareans to let Gov. Carney know of their support of this cannabis legislation.
A 2018 study by the University of Delaware found that 61% of state voters support the legalization of marijuana. Rep. Osienski said that number has likely grown since then, further displaying the statewide support of both HB 371 and HB 372. He said this legislation is one that most Delawareans and the supermajority in both chambers supports, adding that it would be a shame to see either bill vetoed.
Despite the challenges that marijuana legislation has faced, Rep. Osienski said he will continue to fight for what state residents want.
“It’s unfortunate, but I want the people who support these bills to know that I hear them, and I’m going to continue to fight to get this passed. If it’s not this year, then, hopefully, I get reelected and will come back next year to get started again.”