DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware Gov. John Carney said Friday that he will allow bills legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults in the state and authorizing the establishment of a state-licensed and regulated cannabis industry to become law without his signature.
The Democratic governor's move marks a turnaround from last year, when he vetoed a legalization bill championed by fellow Democrats. That led to a failed veto override attempt by House Democrats.
Just last month, Carney’s office said he continued to have strong concerns about the unintended consequences of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, including the effects on young people and highway safety.
“I want to be clear that my views on this issue have not changed. And I understand there are those who share my views who will be disappointed in my decision not to veto this legislation," Carney said in a prepared statement Friday. “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.”
“I remain concerned about the consequences of a recreational marijuana industry in our state," Carney added. "I’m concerned especially about the potential effects on Delaware’s children, on the safety of our roadways, and on our poorest neighborhoods, where I believe a legal marijuana industry will have a disproportionately negative impact. Those concerns are why I could not put my signature to either House Bill 1 or House Bill 2.
The legalization bill allows people 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of leaf marijuana, 12 grams of concentrated marijuana, or marijuana products containing up to 750 milligrams of the psychoactive compound THC. Possession of more than an ounce of marijuana and public consumption would remain misdemeanors. The bill also prohibits people from growing their own marijuana for personal consumption.
The separate industry-creation bill calls for state officials to issue up to 30 initial retail marijuana licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and five testing licenses. It includes special license pools for “social equity” and “microbusiness” applicants.
Rep. Ed Osienski, chief sponsor of both measures, said the legalization bill will become law Sunday. The industry authorization bill will officially become law Thursday.
“After five years of countless meetings, debates, negotiations and conversations, I’m grateful we have reached the point where Delaware has joined a growing number of states that have legalized and regulated adult recreational marijuana for personal use," Osienski, a Newark Democrat, said in a prepared statement.
“I understand the governor’s personal opposition to legalization, so I especially appreciate him listening to the thousands of residents who support this effort and allowing it to become law," he added.
The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 16-4 last month for the legalization bill after it cleared the Democrat-led House on a 28-13 vote. The industry bill was approved by votes of 27-13 in the House and 15-5 in the Senate. The industry bill required a three-fifths supermajority because it creates a new tax in the form of a 15% levy on retail sales.
Veto overrides also require three-fifths votes in both chambers, meaning 25 in the House and 13 in the Senate.
Delaware Democrats have tried for years to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults. The marijuana bills are essentially the same as legislation considered last year, but the election of several progressive Democrats in November helped increase support for the legalization bill and gain the required supermajority for the industry bill. It also likely would have improved chances for overriding any vetoes by Carney.
GOP lawmakers have been mostly united in opposition to legalization, although three Republican House members voted for the legalization bill and two voted for the industry bill. In the Senate, the legalization bill received one GOP vote, while the industry bill passed on a straight party-line vote.
Opponents have argued that legalization and creation of a state marijuana industry will lead to increased marijuana use among teens and young adults that could affect their cognitive development, expose business owners to liability and result in more traffic deaths and injuries. They also say it will do little to eliminate illegal sales.
Supporters say neither bill changes laws regarding driving under the influence and that public consumption of marijuana would be prohibited. They also say employers will be able to test workers for marijuana and discipline employees for being under the influence at work. Supporters also argue that a state-regulated industry will reduce illegal black market sales, create jobs and generate more tax revenue.
To date, 21 other states have passed laws legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults.
Randall Chase, The Associated Press