Bills to Legalize Recreational Marijuana in Delaware Advance in the House; Vote in March likely.

Posted on 02-06-2023

Legislators trying to make recreational marijuana legal in The First State have advanced two bills to accomplish that goal. House Bill 2, also known as the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, was released this week from the House Revenue & Finance Committee.

Two similar bills were narrowly defeated in the House last year. 

The legislation would establish the bureaucratic framework for marijuana sales, including establishing the office of the Marijuana Commissioner that would be responsible for promulgating the necessary rules to carry out the law. It would also create the Delaware Marijuana Control Act Oversight Committee to coordinate the statute’s implementation and review its impact on public health and safety.

One of the more controversial aspects of the bill is a provision that makes previous drug convictions a qualification to operate a marijuana business. Social equity licenses would apply to all aspects of the new industry, including running a retail store, as well as operating a testing, cultivation, or product manufacturing facility. Qualifications to obtain a social equity license include being “convicted of, or adjudicated delinquent for, any marijuana-related offense, except for delivery to a minor.”

Social equity license applicants could also qualify if they resided for at least five of the preceding ten years in a “disproportionately impacted area,” which is defined as census tracts “having high rates of arrest, conviction, and incarceration relating to the sale, possession, use, cultivation, manufacture, or transport of marijuana.” Fees would be discounted for social equity license applicants.

Additionally, the bill seeks to create a Justice Reinvestment Fund financed with a portion of the state’s marijuana tax revenue. The fund would pay for “restorative justice, jail diversion, workforce development, industry-specific technical assistance, or mentoring services for economically disadvantaged persons in disproportionately impacted areas.” It could also be used for “reducing drug-related arrests, reducing the prison population, and developing technology to assist with the restoration of civil rights and expungement of criminal records.”

Since the bill would create new taxes and fees, it requires a minimum three-fifths super-majority – or 25 votes – to pass the 41-member House. Thirty-one of the state’s 62 lawmakers, all Democrats, have signed the bill as sponsors or co-sponsors. The measure currently has no Republican sponsorship.

Because the Delaware Marijuana Control Act would carry a first-year cost exceeding $2.2 million, the bill has been assigned to the House Appropriations Committee for further review.

A companion measure, House Bill 1, seeking to eliminate the civil penalty for adults possessing or using up to one ounce of marijuana, was also released from committee this week.

The Delaware Code was changed seven years ago to decriminalize the possession of “personal use” amounts of marijuana. House Bill 1 would eliminate the remaining $100 fine that could still be imposed under current law. 

Gov. John Carney vetoed an identical measure last year. The bill is now eligible to be voted on by the full House of Representatives. The General Assembly is presently in recess as legislative budget writers hold hearings throughout February. Lawmakers will return to Dover on March 7th