Delaware Attempts To Legalize Recreational Cannabis Again

Delaware Attempts To Legalize Recreational Cannabis Again

This week, the State Senate passed two measures to legalize adult-use marijuana and create a regulatory framework for the cannabis market.

It is a familiar song for citizens of Delaware hoping to become the 22nd state to legalize marijuana consumption for adults 21 and older. As first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, lawmakers from "The First State" are attempting again to pass cannabis legalization reform.


On Tuesday, the Senate voted on and approved two measures to secure legal status for recreational marijuana sales and consumption in Delaware. House Bill 1, which passed with a 16-4 vote, would legalize adult-use cannabis. House Bill 2, also known as the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, passed by a 15-5 vote and is designed to establish a regulatory infrastructure for marijuana sales in the state.


The legislation now goes to the desk of Governor John Carney for his hopeful signature of approval. However, this is not the first time lawmakers have passed cannabis legalization reform bills needing only the governor's signature to make those bills law. Last year leaders in both the State House and Senate approved similar bills. However, Carney made some rather ignominious history by becoming the only Democratic governor to veto marijuana legalization efforts in America.


Following the Senate votes, Gov. ​​Carney's Director of Communications, Emily Hershman, in a statement, said, "The governor continues to have strong concerns about the unintended consequences of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in our state, especially about the impacts on our young people and highway safety. He knows others have honest disagreements on the issue. But we don't have anything new to share today about how the governor will act."


"The governor continues to have strong concerns about the unintended consequences of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in our state, especially about the impacts on our young people and highway safety. He knows others have honest disagreements on the issue. But we don't have anything new to share today about how the governor will act."

- Emily Hershman, Gov. ​​John Carney's Director of Communications


After the governor's veto last year, neither chamber of the State House had enough votes to override Carney's unpopular decision. However, this year, leaders in both bodies ensured that the bills garnered enough votes in the House and Senate to effectively make the legislation veto-proof, thereby almost assuring that both measures would become law in 2023, even without the governor's signature.


The Senate result prompted resounding hails of approval from industry advocates, stakeholders and lawmakers. Brian Vicente, Founding Partner at the marijuana and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, in an email to various media outlets, said, "The impending passage of legalization in Delaware is a historic and important step towards establishing the Atlantic Seaboard as ground-zero for legal adult cannabis regulation. For many years, legalization was considered a West Coast phenomenon, but the East Coast is now following suit. While we are still a ways away from having cannabis legal from Florida to Maine, Delaware further cements the East Coast as an area turning its back on marijuana prohibition."


"The impending passage of legalization in Delaware is a historic and important step towards establishing the Atlantic Seaboard as ground-zero for legal adult cannabis regulation. For many years, legalization was considered a West Coast phenomenon, but the East Coast is now following suit. While we are still a ways away from having cannabis legal from Florida to Maine, Delaware further cements the East Coast as an area turning its back on marijuana prohibition."

- Brian Vicente, Founding Partner at Vicente LLP


The establishment of a legal and regulated recreational market comes as welcome news to a majority of Delawareans as well. Recent polling in Delaware found that close to 75% of those adults surveyed in the state approve of legalizing cannabis, with 18% saying it should remain illegal.


However, despite the overwhelmingly positive energy generated by the legislative result this week, some social equity activists believe the legislation falls short in several key aspects, especially from a restorative justice perspective. For example, neither measure contains provisions expunging past marijuana-related convictions like several cannabis reform plans from many other states.


Natalie Papillion, Chief Operating Officer of the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to releasing all cannabis prisoners, shared her disappointment in the Delaware bills' lack of social justice language.


In a statement sent to High Times, she said, "Legalization alone cannot heal the wounds of prohibition. True justice demands legislation that provides record clearance and resentencing for those affected. It's disheartening that Delaware has ignored the opportunity to start repairing these harms by failing to incorporate retroactive relief measures into this bill."


"Legalization alone cannot heal the wounds of prohibition. True justice demands legislation that provides record clearance and resentencing for those affected. It's disheartening that Delaware has ignored the opportunity to start repairing these harms by failing to incorporate retroactive relief measures into this bill."

- Natalie Papillion, Chief Operating Officer, Last Prisoner Project


Social equity and justice reform notwithstanding, the legislative battle over legalizing recreational marijuana in Delaware is a significant win for proponents of nationwide legalization reform. Whether Gov. Carney signs the legalization measures into law or attempts to use his veto power again, it appears adult-use cannabis will become legal in Delaware this year regardless. That would bring the total number of states with legal marijuana sales and consumption for those 21 and older to 22.


With several other states in various stages of the legislative process for their legalization efforts and still others contemplating and establishing medical marijuana programs, the push for an end to federal prohibition continues to gain momentum and strength with each pounding of the gavel in State Houses from Maine to Hawaii. The power of the flower is truly on full display from sea to shining sea.