Proposal for State-Run Pot Industry Fails Again in Delaware House

The proposal requires a three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate because it creates a new tax, consisting of a 15% levy on retail marijuana sales

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Legislation to establish a state-run marijuana industry in Delaware has again failed to clear the state House.

The Democrat-controlled chamber voted 23-15 on Thursday to approve the bill, which fell two votes short of the required supermajority. The proposal requires a three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate because it creates a new tax, consisting of a 15% levy on retail marijuana sales.

Thursday’s vote came two months after a similar measure failed in the House on a 23-14 vote. It also came just hours after Democratic Gov. John Carney’s office received a companion bill that legalizes possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults for recreational use.

“The governor has been clear that he does not support the legalization of marijuana, and his position has not changed,” Carney spokeswoman Emily David said in an email prior to Thursday’s vote.

Carney has 10 days to decide whether to veto or sign the legalization bill, or allow it to take effect without his signature. Without legalization, the creation of a state-run pot industry is a moot issue.

“I don’t feel like giving up,” Rep. Ed Osienski, chief sponsor of both bills, said after changing his “yes” vote to “no” on Thursday. That procedural move allows him, as a member of the prevailing side, to ask that the vote be reconsidered after lawmakers reconvene next month from a two-week break.

Osienski noted that Majority Whip John Mitchell, a retired police officer who supports the industry bill, was absent Thursday because of illness. Mitchell’s vote would be enough for the bill to clear the House and be sent to the Senate, which also is controlled by Democrats.

In the interim, lawmakers will learn the fate of the legalization bill. It’s unclear whether they would attempt to override a veto from Carney.

Osienski introduced separate legalization and industry-creation bills in late March after the House rejected broader legislation that did both. That cleared the way for passage of the legalization bill, which did not include any tax provision and thus required only a simple majority.

Osienski, a Newark Democrat, told fellow lawmakers Thursday that the industry bill would create good-paying jobs in Delaware “while striking a blow against the criminal element which profits from the thriving illegal market for marijuana in our state.”

The bill calls for state officials to initially issue up to 30 retail marijuana licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and five testing licenses. It would prohibit people from growing their own plants for personal consumption.

Opponents have argued that legalization and creation of a state marijuana industry would lead to increased marijuana use among teens and young adults, expose business owners to liability, and result in more traffic deaths and injuries. They also say it would do little to eliminate illegal sales.

The Associated Press reported earlier this year that legalization had done little to discourage black market sales in California, and that some licensees there are simultaneously participating in the black market in order to make a profit.

Earlier this month, California’s governor proposed a temporary tax cut for the marijuana industry, but businesses said it was not enough. The AP reported that California’s pot industry has been burdened by high taxes that can approach 50% in some areas, costly regulation, and competition from a flourishing black market that analysts estimate is at least twice the size of the legal one.

Currently, recreational marijuana use is permitted in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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