No veto: Recreational marijuana will become legal in Delaware Sunday without Gov. Carney’s signature

The governor said in a statement that the debate has gone on for far too long, and though he still opposes legalization, he won’t stop it anymore.

Zoe Patchell poses at an information booth.

Zoe Patchell of the Cannabis Advocacy Network of Delaware says her group would be monitoring the rollout of her state's regulated industry. (Courtesy of Zoe Patchell)

Starting with the stroke of midnight Saturday, Delawareans over the age of 21 can light up a joint, bong, or bowl of marijuana in private, or eat a weed gummy, without any threat of penalty.

That’s because Gov. John Carney said in a written statement at 3:45 p.m. Friday that he would not veto a bill to legalize the possession, use, or transportation of up to an ounce of weed. The governor, a staunch opponent of legalization, also said Friday he won’t veto the bill that created a regulated marijuana retail market.

That means, on Sunday, if you get pulled over for speeding or any other traffic violation, you could have an ounce, clearly visible in a bag, sitting on the passenger seat, and police can’t do a thing. No different from having an unopened six-pack of beer in the car.

Carney won’t sign the bills into law, or use his veto pen as he did last year with the legalization-only measure. Instead, he will let them become law without his signature. His deadline for signing or vetoing was Saturday at midnight for the legalization-only bill, and Wednesday night for the regulatory bill.

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None of up to 30 retail licenses where people can buy marijuana will be issued until at least August 2024, while regulations are being adopted and applicants are reviewed. A 15% tax will be levied on retail sales.

“As I’ve consistently said, I believe the legalization of recreational marijuana is not a step forward,’’ Carney’s statement said. “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.”

“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. 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 lame-duck governor, who has been a strident opponent during his six-plus years in office, vetoed the bill last year when it arrived on his desk. Lawmakers failed to override the governor, and many disheartened advocates thought it was dead, but last month both the legalization and regulatory bills passed with what many lawmakers and supporters think is a veto-proof majority.

The chief sponsor, Rep. Ed Osienski, said Friday he was relieved that Delaware will now become the 22nd state, including neighbors New Jersey and Maryland, to legalize marijuana. Pennsylvania has not approved legalization.

“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,’’ Osienski said in a news release. “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.

Osienski said he understands fellow Democrat Carney’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. I am committed to working with the administration to ensure that the effort to establish the regulatory process goes as smoothly as possible.”

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Uncertainty has reigned for weeks about the fate of the bills, and Carney had reiterated his opposition Tuesday night during a town hall in New Castle about the fiscal 2024 budget when one woman asked when Delaware would join neighbors New Jersey and Maryland and become the 22nd state to legalize weed.

Acknowledging that many in the audience support legalization, Carney nevertheless doubled down.

“You know, I’m sure, that I don’t support and that the last time I vetoed it because I just don’t think it’s good mostly, for young people, and I don’t think it’s good for our competitiveness.”

But with the clock ticking toward Saturday at midnight, Carney wouldn’t tip his hand and added that he appreciated the view of legalization advocates, “I believe that I am right, but I’m not suggesting that I have the only opinion on it,’’ he said.

His statement Friday also reiterated his concerns ”about the consequences of a recreational marijuana industry in our state. I’m concerned especially about the potential effects on Delaware’s children, on the safety of our roadways, and on our poorest neighborhoods, where I believe a legal marijuana industry will have a disproportionately negative impact. Those concerns are why I could not put my signature’’ on either bill.

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