The Delaware House of Representatives failed on Tuesday to override a veto of a bill to legalize possession of small amounts of pot, likely dashing hopes for meaningful cannabis reform in the state for the rest of the year. Members of the House voted 20-20 in the bid to override the veto, failing to reach the three-fifths majority required for success.
House Bill 371 from Democratic Representative Ed Osienski would have legalized possession of up to one ounce of weed by adults. Osienski introduced the bill and another measure to establish a regulated cannabis industry in April after a more comprehensive proposal to legalize cannabis possession and commerce failed earlier this year.
Osienski has said that the bill to regulate recreational production and sales, House Bill 372, would create good jobs “while striking a blow against the criminal element which profits from the thriving illegal market for marijuana in our state.” But the measure failed in the House last month despite being favored in the vote 24-14, but failing to reach the 60% supermajority required because the bill includes a 15% tax on cannabis sales.
HB 371 fared better, passing in the House by a vote of 26-14 on May 5. A week later, the Delaware Senate approved the measure by a vote of 13-7, sending the bill to Democratic Governor John Carney for his consideration. But on May 24, Carney vetoed the bill, citing concerns about safety and the economic impact of legalizing recreational cannabis.
“That said, 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,” Carney said in his message vetoing HB 371. “Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved.”
Veto Override Attempt Fails in Delaware
Lawmakers got the chance to override Carney’s veto with Tuesday’s vote but failed to reach the threshold necessary. Five representatives in the House, three Democrats and two Republicans, who voted in favor of the bill originally changed their votes for the veto override attempt. Democratic House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst voted for the bill in May but did not cast a vote in the override bid, despite being present in the chamber.
Following Tuesday’s unsuccessful veto override vote, Osienski said on the House floor that he was proud he had “been fighting for something that such a large majority of Delawareans wanted.”
“It’s kind of what I feel they sent me down there to do, and I am appreciative of all the work I’ve done with my colleagues,” he said. “But most of all,” he added, his voice breaking. “I feel good that I was working for Delaware.”
Cannabis activists, about 100 of whom rallied at the state capitol in Dover to encourage lawmakers to override Carney’s veto, were disappointed by the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.
Efforts to legalize cannabis in Delaware are “over, in my opinion,” said Brian Warnock, who waited after the rally to witness the outcome of the vote. “It’s especially disappointing because [Carney’s] a Democrat. This was a Democratic bill.”
“The only thing that’s going to happen,” he added, “is everybody’s going to get on the ferry and go over to New Jersey. It’s not going to stop anybody from getting pot. It’s just going to cost us millions of dollars.”
Longtime cannabis activist Mason Tvert, a partner at cannabis policy firm VS Strategies, said that the defeat of HB 371 maintains the failed status quo of cannabis prohibition.
“It’s stunning to see such a sensible, broadly supported policy proposal derailed by a governor’s veto and a handful of lawmakers’ unwillingness to stand up to him,” Tvert wrote in an email to High Times. “This will not prevent adults in Delaware from accessing cannabis; it just ensures that cannabis will be purchased in other states or in the illegal market. It is a shame that adults in Delaware will continue to be treated like criminals simply for consuming a product that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”
Osienski said that Carney’s opposition to legalization comes despite data that show 61% of the state’s voters are in favor of reform.
“The governor has made it clear he wishes us to wait until 2025, but the majority of Delawareans don’t agree,” he said.