March 30, 2017
A bill in the Delaware House of Representatives could make America's first state the ninth to legalize recreational marijuana.
Democratic Rep. Helene Keeley and her co-sponsors on Thursday unveiled the Delaware Marijuana Control Act (HB 110), a proposal that would permit state residents over the age of 21 to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana from state authorized stores.
“This is an opportunity to create a new industry that would include agricultural, processing and retail jobs throughout the state,” said Rep. Keeley. “This bill creates a professional, well-regulated framework for marijuana production and sales for adult use; it provides protections for residents while generating revenue for various programs throughout the state."
The proposal would not permit residents to grow marijuana themselves and would maintain civil penalties for those between the ages of 18-21 years old.
Much of the bill calls for expanding on the framework of Delaware's 6-year-old medical marijuana program and modeling regulation on the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement. All retail stores, testing facilities, cultivation facilities and manufacturing facilities would be required to apply for licenses, starting with a $5,000 application fee. Biennial license fees would cost $10,000.
An excise tax of $50 per ounce on marijuana flowers, $15 per ounce on all other parts of the marijuana plant and $25 per immature marijuana plant would also be applied under the proposal.
Keeley and state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry estimated the bill would generate $22 million in tax revenue, though they characterized the issue more as a matter of social justice than a remedy for the budget deficit.
"The War on Drugs has produced few winners, but plenty of losers. We’ve spent a staggering amount of time and money arresting and prosecuting low-level marijuana offenders. The costs of these misguided policies have been all too clear – particularly for people of color,” Sen. Henry said in a statement. “The prohibition of marijuana has grown our prison population to unsafe levels; it has derailed thousands of lives and wasted immeasurable potential; and it has perpetuated unacceptable racial disparities in our criminal justice system."
A University of Delaware poll conducted last fall found that 61 percent of Delaware voter support legalizing recreational marijuana. With 14 co-sponsors on board, Keeley has urged grassroots advocates to build support in the State Assembly, expressing confidence that she will gain two-thirds in the House and Senate to pass the legislation.
Democratic Delaware Gov. John Carney, who approved a marijuana decriminalization law in 2015, has previously stated he would prefer to evaluate recreational marijuana programs in other states before moving forward with it in Delaware.
Keeley called on state officials and the public to seek information and consider the benefits of marijuana legalization.
“There is growing public support for legalization as people become more educated and get past some of the longstanding misconceptions about the issue," Keeley said. "Eight other states have approved regulating marijuana like alcohol, and the majority of Delawareans believe now is the time for Delaware to become the ninth state.”