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Delaware Takes Steps Toward Cannabis Legalization, but Future Remains Unknown

Delaware Takes Steps Toward Cannabis Legalization, but Future Remains Unknown

Over the last couple of weeks, legislators in Delaware have taken two monumental steps toward recreational cannabis legalization. The futures of the bills remain uncertain, though, as they head to Governor John Carney’s desk. Historically, Gov. Carney has hesitated to embrace legalization.

DE House and Senate Pass Cannabis Bills

On May 5, 2022, Delaware’s house passed a bill that would remove all penalties for people 21 and older who possess an ounce or less of cannabis. The bill passed with 26 votes in favor and 14 votes not in favor. Nearly all of the votes came from Democratic House members. Three Republicans who had been undecided voted to support the bill.

Currently, Delaware law states that possession of more than 28 grams of cannabis can lead to a $100 fine for people 21 and over. Those under 21 years of age can face stiffer consequences, especially for repeat offenses.

Delaware allows medical cannabis possession for patients with prescriptions.

There was little worry about whether a similar bill would pass the Delaware Senate, which also has a Democratic majority that supports legalizing recreational cannabis. The bill passed on May 12 with 13 out of 20 votes favoring legalization.

The bill now heads to Gov. Carney’s desk.

An upcoming bill will establish permit requirements, taxes, fees, and other logistics.

Gov. Carney Has Expressed Concern About Legalization

While this is a historic moment for cannabis legislation, there is a chance that Gov. Carney, a Democrat, will veto the bill. Carney acknowledges that cannabis isn’t “the worst thing in the world.”

He seems to question recreational cannabis legalization because of its potential impact on public health. In a speech earlier in the year, Gov. Carney said, “We spend all this time and money to get people to stop smoking cigarettes and now we want to say it’s okay to just smoke marijuana recreationally.”

He has also questioned whether full legalization would benefit the state’s economy.

Carney’s statements comparing cannabis to cigarettes show that he might not fully understand the role legalized cannabis could play in public health.

Like much of the country, Delaware faces an opioid crisis that threatens lives. In 2020, the state reported 447 deaths from opioid overdoses, up from 431 deaths in 2019. Delaware has a population lower than 970,000 people, making it one of the least-populated states in the country. By percentage, the increase in deaths between 2019 and 2020 puts Delaware above the national average.

Years of evidence show that cannabis can lessen the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and serves as a replacement for people living with opioid use disorder. Easier access to recreational cannabis might also prevent some people from turning to opioids that pose much greater threats to health.

The governor might also be mistaken about the products many cannabis consumers prefer. A significant percentage of non-daily users say they see edibles as a less harmful way to consume cannabis. Easier access to cannabis edibles might also decrease the amount of cannabis flowers daily users smoke.

The fact of the matter is that better access to cannabis would improve the health outcomes of many people. Additionally, legalizing a product does not mean a state says smoking marijuana is “okay.” It means that adults have the option to decide for themselves, just as they do with alcohol.

The Future Is Unclear but Hopeful

Even if Gov. Carney vetoes the bill, this marks an important step toward recreational legalization in Delaware. Eventually, Carney will lose his opportunity to stand in the way. It’s just a matter of time.

May 18, 2022Comments Off
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