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A bill to legalize marijuana in Delaware cleared its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday, passing the House Health and Human Development Committee by a 10-4 vote.

The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski (D), who introduced a similar proposal last year. The Health and Human Development Committee also approved the measure last year, but it ultimately stalled before an expected floor vote due to disagreements over social equity provisions. At the time, Osienski pledged to introduce a revised bill for the 2022 session that could garner broad enough support to pass.

Osienski told the hearing that the proposal would “create well-paying jobs for Delawares while dealing a blow to the criminal element that profits from our state’s thriving illegal market.”

Rep. Paul Baumbach (D), a co-sponsor of the current and past versions of the legalization bill, thanked Osienski for his efforts to modify and strengthen the bill over time.

“You’ve listened to so many concerns,” he said, “and you and the staff have incorporated so many of the best ideas that exist on this.”

One of the few opponents of the bill at Wednesday’s hearing was Rep. Charles S. Postles Jr. (R), who said he doesn’t “believe in any extreme, that of legalization or excessive punitiveness” and feared that legalization would send a message to children that cannabis use is safe. “We’re talking about the government saying to our young people, ‘This stuff is good. Go do it.'”

The bill, HB 305, would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, including up to five grams of cannabis concentrates. Home cultivation of marijuana, as well as home delivery by licensed companies, would be banned.

A Marijuana Commissioner under the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Law Enforcement Division would regulate the industry and oversee the licensing of retailers, growers, manufacturers and labs. Licenses would be awarded through a competitive, graded process, with benefits granted to those who pay workers a living wage, provide health insurance or meet certain other criteria.

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Social equity efforts are integrated into the licensing system. After 19 months of the bill’s enactment, for example, regulators are expected to approve 30 retailer licenses, half of which would go to social equity seekers. Social equity applicants — defined as entities majority-owned by people with previous cannabis convictions or who live in an area disproportionately affected by the war on drugs — would also be awarded a third of the 60 licenses planned cultivation, one third of the manufacturing licenses and two of the five licenses for the testing laboratories.

Equity applicants would also be entitled to reduced application and licensing fees as well as state technical assistance.

Cannabis retail sales would be subject to a 15% excise tax, which would not apply to medical marijuana products.

Of the tax revenue, 7% would go to a new Justice Reinvestment Fund, which would support grants, services and other initiatives focused on issues such as diversion, workforce development and education. technical assistance to people from economically disadvantaged and disproportionately affected communities. by the war on drugs. The money would also be used to help facilitate delistings, according to a summary from the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

When Osienski’s previous bill was considered last year, a similar equity fund provision was included, and the sponsor said he was taken aback when told that its inclusion meant that the bill would require 75% of lawmakers in the chamber to approve it.

Osienski attempted to address the issue through an amendment, but some members of the Black Caucus opposed the changes and the measure failed.

The current bill will still require a supermajority threshold to pass, but a smaller 60% threshold.

Osienski worked with the Black Caucus in the months that followed to gain support and move towards more palatable legislation. And a clear sign of progress is that Reps. Rae Moore (D) and Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D) have already signed on as co-sponsors of the new bill after withdrawing support for the 2021 version on fairness grounds.

Chukwoucha said at Wednesday’s hearing that he believes previous versions of the bill have failed to address past injustices against people of color. The current version, he says, does better.

“We talked about the harms in the communities and [how] people who look like me are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses, but we didn’t really see any redress in the bill,” Chukwoucha said. He thanked Osienski for working with stakeholders to address these concerns.

In 2019, Osienski was the lead sponsor of a legalization bill that authorized a House committee but failed to make progress across the House. This bill would have allowed medical cannabis dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to adults 21 and older while the rest of the adult-use industry was still gearing up to launch, a provision that was removed from later versions.

Four of the state’s six medical marijuana companies have spoken out publicly against the change and testified against the bill last year. In response, activists in Delaware mounted a boycott against these operators.

In public testimony Wednesday, a representative from a subsidiary of multistate dispensary operator Columbia Care said the group supports the bill.

Meanwhile, representatives from various state agencies have raised concerns about certain provisions of the bill and urged changes to the plan. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, has urged investment in treatment programs for substance use disorders and public awareness campaigns about the risks of cannabis use. A representative from the Department of Agriculture called for a ban on outdoor cannabis cultivation, among other changes.

The Ministry of Finance, meanwhile, said that while the bill addressed some of the ministry’s past concerns, it would still create problems for administrators in charge of tax collection and other transactions, particularly because Much of the cannabis industry depends on money.

Osienski said at the start of the hearing that he expected the agency to be pushed back after Gov. John Carney’s (D) office sent him a list of concerns Tuesday afternoon. “I want to assure you that we have met with these agencies in the past,” he said, “and we will continue to meet with them to address these concerns.”

Supporters applauded the decision to move the bill forward.

“The House Human Development Committee’s approval of HB 305 today is the first step toward fair state legalization this year,” Olivia Naugle, senior policy analyst for Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Wednesday time. “Delaware has the opportunity to join 18 other states and DCs that have legalized cannabis for adults, including neighboring New Jersey. It is high time for the legislature to listen to its constituents and meet the moment. »

Several modest amendments that were tabled during the study of last year’s bill have been incorporated into the new measure. These include provisions relating to standardization of quality control, accreditation of marijuana testing facilities, and packaging and labeling requirements.

Parts of the radiation bill have also been deleted, as they were made redundant by the enactment of separate legislation last year.

Individual municipalities could set their own regulations for the hours and locations of marijuana business operations, and they could also completely ban cannabis businesses from their jurisdiction.

As supportive lawmakers work to push the bill through the Legislature, they also face the challenge of winning over Carney, one of the few Democratic governors who remain opposed to legalization.

Despite his distrust of legalizing adult use, Carney has signed two marijuana delisting laws in recent years. In 2017 and 2018, a state task force met to discuss legalization issues, and the governor hosted a series of cannabis roundtables.

A legalization bill had already received majority support in the House in 2018, but it failed to secure the supermajority needed to pass.

Carney’s predecessor approved a measure to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis in 2015.

An analysis by state auditor Kathy McGuiness (D) released last year found that Delaware could generate more than $43 million in revenue annually by regulating marijuana and imposing a 20% excise tax. . The legal market could also create more than 1,000 new jobs over five years if the policy is adopted, according to the report.

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