Delaware’s marijuana showdown: Lawmakers give recreational use final approval, Gov. Carney still opposed

The Delaware Senate has given final approval to a bill legalizing recreational marijuana, but Governor John Carney remains unchanged in his opposition.

Glass containers display varieties of marijuana for sale on shelves

File photo: Glass containers display varieties of marijuana for sale on shelves at The Station, a retail and medical cannabis dispensary, in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

For years, Gov. John Carney has expressed his opposition to the effort to legalize recreational marijuana, but he’s never officially answered the question of whether he would veto a legalization bill if it crossed his desk.

It’s a question he must answer now.

In a 13-7 vote, the Delaware Senate gave final approval to legalized, recreational marijuana in a Thursday afternoon vote. The House approved the same bill just a week ago.

In an emailed statement to WHYY News following the Senate vote, Carney’s Director of Communications Emily David Hershman said, “We’ll review the bill, but the Governor’s position hasn’t changed.”

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The legislation strips all penalties from possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Criminal penalties for having less than 28 grams of weed were removed in 2015, but under current law, someone with up to 28 grams of weed gets a ticket and a $100 fine.

“This is a historic day for Delawareans, who overwhelmingly supported the legalization of marijuana,” said the bill’s lead Senate sponsor Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover). “I also want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for acting quickly once a bill reached our chamber to end 50 years of prohibition and criminalization that historically has been unjustly and inequitably applied to people of color.”

The Senate vote was split along party lines, with all Democrats voting for it and all Republicans against.

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Marijuana advocates like Zoë Patchell, who heads up the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, celebrated Thursday’s vote. “We are thankful that this important criminal justice reform is finally being prioritized,” she said. “The time to end penalizing adults for a simple cannabis possession offense, conduct that is now legal in eighteen states and D.C, is long overdue.”

The legalization legislation is a companion piece to another bill that would create a structure for taxing and regulating vendors to grow and sell weed. A House committee has cleared the tax bill, but it has not been scheduled for debate on the House floor. That bill requires a three-fifths majority because it includes a 15% tax on all sales for recreational use. Medical marijuana would not be taxed.

Lawmakers devised the plan to split the legislation into two bills after an effort to pass them as one measure failed by two votes in the House back in March. Legalization and regulation had been bundled together in the same bill for the last six years with no success.

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