Bill Would Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Delaware

DOVER – Citing an opportunity to establish a new industry that would create jobs and benefit vital state programs, lawmakers introduced legislation that would make Delaware the ninth state to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and older.

Sponsored by Rep. Helene Keeley and Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, House Bill 110 would establish a commissioner to regulate, tax and distribute marijuana legally in Delaware. The regulatory framework is modeled on existing laws governing the regulation and taxation of alcohol. The bill would create a marijuana regulation fund, which would consist of taxes collected on marijuana, license fees paid by marijuana business, and any fines imposed on them.

Delaware approved medical marijuana for patients with various illnesses in 2011 and decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2015.

“This is an opportunity to create a new industry that would include agricultural, processing and retail jobs throughout the state,” said Rep. Keeley, D-Wilmington South. “This bill creates a professional, well-regulated framework for marijuana production and sales for adult use; it provides protections for residents while generating revenue for various programs throughout the state.

“There is growing public support for legalization as people become more educated and get past some of the longstanding misconceptions about the issue. Eight other states have approved regulating marijuana like alcohol, and the majority of Delawareans believe now is the time for Delaware to become the ninth state.”

A University of Delaware poll last fall indicated that 61 percent of Delaware voters support legalizing marijuana. Support for legalization has also reached 60 percent nationally, according to the latest Gallup poll.

“The War on Drugs has produced few winners, but plenty of losers. We’ve spent a staggering amount of time and money arresting and prosecuting low-level marijuana offenders. The costs of these misguided policies have been all too clear – particularly for people of color,” said Sen. Henry, D-Wilmington East.

“The prohibition of marijuana has grown our prison population to unsafe levels; it has derailed thousands of lives and wasted immeasurable potential; and it has perpetuated unacceptable racial disparities in our criminal justice system – all over a drug safer than alcohol, less addictive than tobacco, and easier for our kids to get their hands on than either. This policy has wreaked havoc on our communities, and it’s time for us to reverse course.”

HB 110, titled the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, would establish a regulatory infrastructure similar to the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement (DATE), and it also would be self-sustaining. Under the bill, retail stores, testing facilities, cultivation facilities, and manufacturing facilities would need to apply for licenses to operate in the marijuana industry. Applicants would pay a fee of up to $5,000 for a license and a $10,000 biennial fee for each license.

The bill also would create an excise tax of: $50 per ounce on marijuana flowers, $15 per ounce on all other parts of the marijuana plant, and $25 per immature marijuana plant.

The Delaware Marijuana Control Act would not:

  • Allow individuals to drive while intoxicated, or use marijuana in a moving vehicle.
  • Allow individuals under the age of 21 to purchase, possess, or consume marijuana.
  • Allow individuals to consume marijuana in public spaces.
  • Allow individuals to grow their own plants or create byproducts on their own.

Delaware Chief Defender Brendan O’Neill noted that low-level marijuana-related cases can still end up in Delaware’s criminal justice system. Legalizing marijuana for adults would alleviate that burden on the courts and allow law enforcement officials to spend more time and resources addressing other issues.

“The Office of Defense Services supports the Marijuana Control Act. The bill would raise significant tax revenues, reduce the burdens on police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the courts,” Mr. O’Neill said. “In addition, it would lessen the disproportionate impact our current laws have on people of color. Our criminal justice system is under a lot of stress and legalizing the possession and personal use of marijuana would relieve some of the burdens on the system.”