Gov. John Carney on Friday said he would let the bills legalize marijuana and create a recreational industry to become a law without his signature, standing down from his aversions to recreational weed that put him at odds with his party.
Delaware is the 22nd state to legalize recreational marijuana, after a nearly decades long fight by advocates and Democrats to enact these policies. Carney, in a statement, said he still believes legalizing weed is “not a step forward.”
“I want to be clear that my views on this issue have not changed,” the governor said in a statement. “And I understand there are those who share my views who will be disappointed in my decision not to veto this legislation.
“I came to this decision because I believe we’ve spent far too much time focused on this issue, when Delawareans face more serious and pressing concerns every day. It’s time to move on.”
Carney said he could not sign these bills due to his concerns about the health consequences recreational marijuana would have on children, as well as roadway safety. Along with House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, the governor is the rare Democrat to not support weed legalization.
“I recognize that many legislators disagree – and I respect the legislative process,” he said. “I also do not believe the debate is prolonging on this issue best serves Delawareans.”
Marijuana, in the quantity of personal use, becomes legal starting Sunday. Delawareans will not be able to purchase recreational weed in the First State for at least 16 months. It will still be illegal to consume marijuana in public, and employers are still allowed to have a zero-tolerance policy.
Like it has in neighboring states, the Delaware recreational marijuana industry could bring in tens of millions in tax revenue.
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The General Assembly in March passed two marijuana-related bills: House Bill 1 legalizes the “personal use quantity” of marijuana, which varies by cannabis form, for people ages 21 and older. This is defined as 1 ounce or less of leaf marijuana, 12 grams or less of concentrated cannabis, or cannabis products containing 750 milligrams or less of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.
The second bill, House Bill 2, creates and regulates the recreational marijuana industry in Delaware. Within 16 months of the legislation going into effect, the state will distribute 30 retail licenses through a competitive bidding process.
There would be a marijuana control enforcement fee of 15% and 7% of the marijuana tax revenue into a Justice Reinvestment Fund. This money, lawmakers say, will create grants and services that focus on restorative justice and reducing the state’s prison population.
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Carney, in his statement, said he would ensure that Delaware has a “robust regulatory system that protects the interests of the most vulnerable Delawareans, to avoid the many challenges we’ve seen in other states, and to get back to focusing on issues that are most important for Delaware families.”
The governor was sent the bills last week, starting a 10-day clock for him to make a decision on the future of the bills. He had three options: sign, veto or do nothing, which would allow it to become law.
The governor vetoed a similar legalization bill, resulting in a rare and historic moment for lawmakers: They attempted to override. A successful veto override hasn’t been done since 1977.
And it’s rarely attempted.
The Delaware General Assembly has been reluctant to take on the governor, especially when he is a member of their own party. So, despite the attempt last year, many lawmakers who supported the bill acquiesced.
Yet this year appeared to be different. The bills sponsor Rep Ed. Osienski, a Newark Democrat, said last week that he had the votes for successful overrides on both bills.
“I do think the temperature is different,” Osienski said. “I think my colleagues have been through that once. And they heard about it from their constituents.”
Osienski, in a statement, said he would work with the Carney administration to ensure the regulatory process went smoothly. He credited the governor for “listening to the thousands of residents who supported this effort and allowed it to become law.” He also thanked advocates for, in the last five years, being “patient as we negotiated, poked, prodded and cajoled our way to gain enough support to pass the Marijuana Control Act.”
“We’ve reached the mountaintop, and it feels great to finally get there,” he said. “I hope everyone enjoys the moment.”
This article originally appeared on the Delaware News Journal: Carney allows Delaware weed bills to become law without signature