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Delaware: Governor Vetoes Marijuana Depenalization Measure

Delaware Marijuana Laws

Democrat Gov. John Carney has vetoed legislation, House Bill 371, that sought to eliminate penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults. 

His decision was not altogether unexpected, as the Governor has long expressed opposition to legalizing marijuana. “I have been clear about my position since before I took office,” he wrote in his veto message. “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.”

The bill did not in any way amend existing laws with respect to the possession or use of marijuana by young people. (State law defines marijuana possession by juveniles as a civil violation, punishable by counseling in lieu of a monetary fine.) The measure would have eliminated civil penalties for those age 21 or older who possess up to one ounce of cannabis.

Laura Sharer, Executive Director of Delaware NORML, said that advocates will work with members of the General Assembly to try to override the governor’s veto. “We’re urging our General Assembly to see through this process, no matter the hurdles. Delawareans should not be left to bear the unjustifiable human costs of life-altering police stops, searches and arrests for cannabis, a non-toxic plant.”

House Bill 371 had been advanced by super-majorities in the Delaware House and Senate. However, Delaware lawmakers have historically been reluctant to override the governor’s vetoes.

Representative Ed Osienski, the bill’s sponsor, said that he was “deeply disappointed” by Gov. Carney’s decision especially, since the governor “could have allowed the bill to become law without his signature, which would have preserved both his personal opposition and the will of the residents and legislators.”

Senator Trey Paradee and Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola issued the following joint statement: “We are disappointed by Governor John Carney’s decision to ignore the will of Delaware voters and the will of their elected representatives in the Delaware General Assembly. While his veto of House Bill 371 will not stop adults from consuming marijuana, it will help to preserve the illegal drug market created by 50 years of prohibition and criminalization that historically has been unjustly and inequitably applied to communities of color.”  

Separate legislation (HB 372) that seeks to legalize and regulate the retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products is still pending before lawmakers, but experienced a setback last week. Previous attempts to pass legislation to regulate and tax marijuana sales stalled in the Senate, which requires a three-fifths majority vote to approve any measure that establishes new taxes. 

NORML’s State Policies Manager Jax James said: “Continuing to define cannabis as contraband in Delaware is not in the public’s interest. It is vital that the legislature push back and override Gov. Carney’s veto.”

Additional information is available from Delaware NORML.