Delaware lawmakers on Tuesday gave final approval to a pair of bills to legalize cannabis and regulate its sale, sending the legislation to the desk of Gov. John Carney, who rejected a similar decriminalization measure last session.
The decriminalization bill, H.B. 1, would remove all penalties for personal use and possession, but also contains provisions aimed at cracking down on "gifting" arrangements, whereby a seller gives a customer cannabis as a freebie alongside another purchase.
The bill was approved by the state Senate on a 16-4 vote after clearing the House of Representatives 28-13 earlier this month.
The legislature also gave final approval to a more comprehensive companion bill, H.B. 2, aimed at creating a regulated market for adult-use cannabis under the ambit of a new Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner.
The legislation was approved 15-5, with three-fifths majority approval needed for passage. The House approved it earlier this month on a 27-13 vote.
Delaware lawmakers had also approved in the last session a bill to decriminalize cannabis possession, but it was vetoed in May by Carney, and lawmakers at the time rejected a measure to overturn his veto.
In rejecting the bill, Carney said in May, "I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people."
Emily Hershman, a spokesperson for the governor, declined to say whether he would approve or veto the newly approved legislation.
"The governor continues to have strong concerns about the unintended consequences of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in our state, especially about the impacts on our young people and highway safety," she told Law360. "He knows others have honest disagreements on this issue. But we don't have anything new to share today about how the governor will act on H.B. 1 and H.B. 2 if they reach his desk."
Both H.B. 1 and H.B. 2 passed with majorities large enough to overcome a governor's veto. The bills can also become law without the governor's action.
Laura Sharer, executive director of the Delaware chapter of cannabis legalization advocate NORML, said in a statement Tuesday, "With immense public support and the support of the majority of our full General Assembly, the message to Governor Carney is clear: Legalize cannabis and end the criminalization of cannabis."
"Ending the criminalization of cannabis is about more than just ending fines and criminal penalties," she continued. "The unjustifiable human cost of cannabis prohibition has created generational damages for Delawareans for decades."
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