Recreational marijuana became legal in Delaware on Sunday as Democratic Governor John Carney allowed two bills to legalize adult-use cannabis to become law without his signature. The measures, House Bill 1 and House Bill 2, legalize the possession of marijuana for adults and establish a legal framework for regulated recreational cannabis production and sales. Carney, who vetoed similar legislation last year, announced late last week that he would let the bills become law, although he added that he still has reservations about the measure.
“These two pieces of legislation remove all state-level civil and criminal penalties from simple marijuana possession and create a highly regulated industry to conduct recreational marijuana sales in Delaware,” Carney said in a statement on Friday afternoon. “As I’ve consistently said, I believe the legalization of recreational marijuana is not a step forward. I support both medical marijuana and Delaware’s decriminalization law because no one should go to jail for possessing a personal use quantity of marijuana. And today, they do not.”
The bills were passed by bipartisan, veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the Delaware legislature last month. House Bill 1 (HB 1) removes all penalties for possession of a personal use quantity of marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older. House Bill 2 (HB 2) creates a regulatory framework to govern the cultivation and sale and possession of marijuana, including provisions that provide opportunities for small businesses to be licensed and ensure that people living in areas disproportionately affected by decades of marijuana have access to the new legal market for recreational cannabis.
HB 1 became effective on Sunday, making Delaware the 22nd state in the nation to legalize cannabis for adults. HB 2 will become effective on Thursday, according to the governor’s announcement last week.
“After five years of countless meetings, debates, negotiations and conversations, I’m grateful we have reached the point where Delaware has joined a growing number of states that have legalized and regulated adult recreational marijuana for personal use,” Representative Ed Osienski, the sponsor of both bills, said in a statement after Carney announced he would let the bills become law. “We know that more than 60% of Delawareans support the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use, and more than two-thirds of the General Assembly agreed.”
Carney’s veto of cannabis legalization bills last year marked the first time a Democratic governor had taken such a move. And while he is acquiescing to the inevitable by letting the bills become law this year, he noted that he is still opposed to the idea.
“I want to be clear that my views on this issue have not changed. And I understand there are those who share my views who will be disappointed in my decision not to veto this legislation,” said Carney. “I came to this decision because I believe we’ve spent far too much time focused on this issue, when Delawareans face more serious and pressing concerns every day. It’s time to move on.”
The governor added that despite his personal opposition, he was allowing the cannabis legalization bills to become law out of respect for the legislative process. Osienki praised Carney for the position he is taking this year and vowed to assist with a smooth transition to legal cannabis in Delaware.
“I understand the governor’s personal opposition to legalization, so I especially appreciate him listening to the thousands of residents who support this effort and allowing it to become law,” he added. “I am committed to working with the administration to ensure that the effort to establish the regulatory process goes as smoothly as possible.”
Brian Vicente, founding partner of the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, said that the legislation marks another milestone in the movement to reform cannabis policy in the United States, adding that he expects further progress in 2023.
“Each state that legalizes cannabis is a significant step forward on our country’s path to marijuana reform, and Delaware’s recent action to legalize is no exception. This bill breezed through both the state senate and house with a veto-proof majority, showing that Delaware’s elected representatives, much like its citizens, widely support cannabis reform,” Vicente wrote in an email to High Times. “Delaware will send two U.S. Senators and a U.S. Representative to Washington DC to represent their state’s interests, which now include protecting a regulated system for adult-use cannabis. Delaware is the 22nd state to legalize, and will likely soon be joined by Minnesota, which is actively debating legalization in its state legislature. Each state’s legalization gets our country closer to a tipping point, when the federal government will be forced to align its cannabis policy with the states.”