Newark Post | by Randall Chase
DOVER – The state House on Wednesday evening rejected a bill that would legalize marijuana for recreational use in Delaware, with the chief sponsor blaming continued opposition from the law enforcement community.
The legislation, which included an amendment aimed at addressing concerns of opponents, failed on a 21-15 vote, falling four votes short of the required three-fifths majority. Five lawmakers, all members of the Democratic majority, declined to vote on the measure, ensuring its failure.
Among the legislators who represent the Newark area, Paul Baumbach, David Bentz, John Kowalko, Ed Osienski and John Viola voted in favor of the bill, Joe Miro and Mike Ramone voted against it, and Earl Jaques abstained.
The vote came after the original legislation stalled last year amid opposition from the law enforcement, business and medical communities.
Lawmakers then established a task force to study issues surrounding legalization, but the panel’s final report did little to resolve concerns of opponents.
“Sometimes you just can’t make everybody happy,” said chief sponsor Rep. Helene Keeley, adding she did her best to address concerns of bill critics.
Keeley nevertheless said the legislation sends a message, and she and other advocates maintain that legalization will happen sooner or later.
Currently, only nine states, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational use of pot.
“We’re devastated that Delaware representatives would vote against this citizen-led movement … and vote to allow criminal market control for another year,” said Zoe Patchell, executive director of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network. “This is absolutely inevitable.”
Supporters say legalization would help reduce the black market for marijuana and the associated crime that comes with it, while raising money for state coffers. Keeley, D-Wilmington, said legalization would generate between $30 million and $35 million in revenue annually, which she called a conservative estimate.
Opponents argue that legalization carries unknown health risks and would lead to more drug addiction and homelessness, affect school and workplace productivity, and lead to more impaired-driving accidents.
“We believe the final vote reflects the necessary caution before any major public policy change,” said Cathy Rossi, vice president of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which opposed the legislation.
The bill would have not allowed Delawareans to grown their own pot for personal consumption, but would have allowed adults 21 and older to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana from state-licensed retailers.
The legalization scheme would have been overseen by two new bureaucracies, the Division of Marijuana Control and Enforcement and the Office of the Marijuana Commissioner.
The bill would have authorized up to 40 marijuana retail stores, up to 25 product manufacturing facilities, up to five testing facilities, and up to 75 cultivation facilities, all of which would pay biennial licensing fees of $10,000 to the state, on top of initial application fees.