“I’m basically here to listen,” said Delaware Gov. John Carney Wednesday evening as he welcomed local lawmakers and cannabis advocates to a roundtable discussion on the legalization of recreational pot.
If House Bill 110 passes, Delaware would be the first Mid-Atlantic state to welcome marijuana without medicinal constraints. It would be the ninth state in the nation to do so.
The District of Columbia legalized recreational cannabis in 2015 just one year after decriminalizing pot and introducing medical marijuana. Both New Jersey and Maryland have been stumbling through their programs with patients complaining about high costs and restrictive regulations.
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Delaware, on the other hand, is poised to follow in D.C.’s footsteps. It passed medical cannabis in 2011 and is considering expanding its program, which would model the state’s alcohol laws.
An overseeing agency, the Division of Marijuana Control and Enforcement, would be tasked with regulating and limiting sales of cannabis on select days and time. Only people 21 years of age and older could purchase cannabis. Every ounce of flower would be taxed $50 while other parts of the plant would be subject to a $15 per ounce tax.
To put that into context, Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, charges buyers a 10 percent state marijuana tax and a 2.9 percent sales tax plus any local sales tax. Washington state has a 37 percent excise tax.
Tax revenue would be divided between the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Services. Portions would go towards drug abuse prevention program, public education and aiding communities “that have been disproportionately affected” by the war on drugs.
This last point is of particular interest to State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, co-sponsored the bill and called it a “social and criminal justice issue.”
“We won’t be arresting people who don’t deserve it,” she said.
Wednesday evening’s roundtable echoed many of the familiar refrains surrounding the green rush: What would be legal? Who would oversee it? Is this really necessary?
“Yes” declared several people, including bill co-sponsor Rep. Helene Keeley. She touted several of the plan’s virtues, such as attracting more tourism and bringing in much needed tax dollars to Delaware.
“I was surprised by some of the people who called me and expressed interest,” she said, adding that everyone from farmers to bankers are included in her long list of supporters.
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But the conversation soured at several points. Opponents expressed concerns that rumors of a green rush are exaggerated.
“The black market will always exist,” said Delaware resident Bruce Lorenz. “We haven’t got all the answers yet and I think that decriminalization goes a long way to getting where you want to be. Commercialization of this is not a good idea.”
He added that “if someone has to pay an extra $50 for an ounce of pot, they will probably get the un-taxed version.”
Carney’s take on the issue remains unknown. He has voiced opposition in the past, but reemphasized his support for medical marijuana. Wednesday evening, the governor again toed a middle line.
Several people in the audience suggested letting voters decide the issue. Carney nodded when the idea of putting the bill on a ballot was mentioned.
“Let me be clear I have not expressed my support for [the bill],” Carney said, but added that he is willing to hear all sides.