Delaware Marijuana Control Act Would Legalize, Regulate Recreational Cannabis

DOVER – Delaware lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday to make Delaware the latest state to legalize recreational marijuana for adult users, a measure that would diminish the illegal market while establishing a new industry with good-paying jobs in the First State.

House Bill 150, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, would create a legal framework to regulate the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana, provide opportunities for small businesses to be licensed, and ensure people living in areas disproportionately affected by the prohibition of marijuana have equal access to this new market.

Chief House sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski said the measure also is aimed at shutting down the marijuana illegal market in Delaware by diverting demand from illegal enterprises, and empowering law enforcement with the ability to ensure a safe, legal market for the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana in Delaware.

“Support for adult recreational marijuana has been growing for years in Delaware and across the country. We have seen other states successfully enact policies that established a safe and legal market for cannabis, and we have studied those laws to craft the best policy for Delaware,” said Rep. Osienski, D-Brookside. “We believe we have a solid bill that has the support of the public, and we believe we have the political will to pass this bill into law.

“We would be establishing a new industry that will create good-paying jobs for Delawareans while striking a blow against the marijuana illegal market. We also listened to concerns from communities that have been historically impacted by the prohibition of marijuana, and to promote equity, we have included provisions so they can participate in this new market.”

HB 150 would regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana from a licensed retail marijuana store. Under the bill, the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement (DATE) would absorb marijuana enforcement and create a separate, administrative Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

The legislation would allow for up to 30 retail licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill’s effective date. It also would establish a competitive licensing process through the Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner using a scoring system that rewards applicants for paying a living wage, providing employer-paid health insurance, providing a defined benefit pension plan, providing sick and paid leave to workers, hiring more full-time workers, focusing on diversity of workforce, and other factors.

The measure would establish a marijuana control enforcement fee assessed at point of sale, set at 15% to compete with other states, and keep prices competitive with existing street values to snuff out the illegal market.

“The time has come for us to replace an illegal market that has overwhelmed our court system and damaged lives with a legal, regulated and responsible industry that will create thousands of good-paying jobs in Delaware,” said Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, HB 150’s chief Senate sponsor. “We have seen the benefits of a thriving legal cannabis industry in 15 other states. We have had time to study what works and what does not. This legislation is sound economic policy, strong social justice reform and a job creator that we absolutely should pass this year.”

HB 150 would create new license pools for Social Equity and Microbusiness applicants. The new Social Equity Applicant pool would be limited to those who either live in a disproportionately affected area, or have either been convicted of a marijuana related offense (barring selling to a minor), or are the child of a person convicted of a marijuana related offense. These applicants would have access to technical assistance programs, reduced fees, an adjusted points scale, a waiver of the physical location requirement, and access to a revolving Social Equity Loan fund.

The new Microbusiness Applicant pool would be limited to applicants with majority ownership held by residents. These applicants would have reduced fees, though higher than Social Equity applicants, and an adjusted points scale. These applicants would have access to Cultivation and Product Manufacturing Licenses. To accommodate the new license pools, more retail and cultivation licenses have been added to the previous version’s totals.

Unlike its predecessor from the 150th General Assembly, HB 150 would no longer allow marijuana compassion centers to sell recreational marijuana during the transition period before the opening of recreational licensed retail.

The measure also allows for the expungement of all prior marijuana-related offenses, provided the individual has no convictions for violent felonies.

Public support for recreational cannabis is clear. A University of Delaware poll in 2018 indicated that 61 percent of Delaware voters support legalizing marijuana. Support for legalization has also reached 68 percent nationally, according to a November 2020 Gallup poll.

Currently, recreational marijuana use is permitted in 14 states and the District of Columbia. New Jersey and Virginia’s legislatures recently passed legalization bills, and Maryland’s General Assembly is considering a similar measure.

The bill allows municipalities to prohibit the operation of marijuana facilities within their borders through local ordinances that are not in conflict with municipal regulations enacted under this law.

HB 150 would not change existing state law regarding driving under the influence of an illicit or recreational drug. It also would not allow individuals to grow their own plants. Public consumption of marijuana would still not be permitted.

Employer enforcement largely would not change. Employers would be permitted to drug test workers for marijuana to ensure any zero-tolerance policies are being followed. They also would be able to discipline workers for being under the influence at work, as well as prohibit the consumption of marijuana at work.

HB 150 has been assigned to the House Health & Human Development Committee, and it will be heard in committee on March 24.