Recreational marijuana bill defeated in Delaware House

Another year, another defeat for recreational marijuana. House lawmakers were unable to get the needed votes to advance the legalization measure.

A closeup of Delaware's General Assembly seal

Delaware's General Assembly seal.

This year’s recreational marijuana bill needed support from three-fifths of Delaware lawmakers to move forward. Thursday afternoon, the House voted in favor of the measure, 23-14, but that fell short of the threshold needed to move the bill to the Senate.

“I am deeply disappointed by the outcome,” said State Rep. Ed Osienski, the bill’s prime sponsor. “We have had numerous meetings with stakeholders, made several changes to our legislation, and engaged lawmakers to answer their questions and attempt to address their concerns. After all of this effort, I believe we owed it to the residents of Delaware to hold a full floor debate and vote on this issue.”

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All 15 House Republicans voted against the measure. Their no votes were joined by Pete Schwartzkopf, a Democrat and retired state police captain. Fellow Dems Stephanie Bolden and William Bush did not vote.

As lawmakers started this year’s session in January, Osienski had been optimistic about the fate of recreational marijuana. Even getting the bill to the floor for a vote is farther than the measure has been since a 2018 bill fell four votes shy in the House.

The state has made some changes to its marijuana laws, decriminalizing possession of up to an ounce in 2015, while medical marijuana has been legal for about a decade.

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But recreational pot seems a step too far for lawmakers. Its most powerful opponent is Gov. John Carney, who has repeatedly said he does not support it.

Last year, during a live radio show co-hosted by WHYY News, Carney said he was concerned about health effects and pointed out that he was lieutenant governor in 2002 when then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner pushed for and lawmakers approved an indoor smoking ban.

“We spent all this time and money to get people to stop smoking cigarettes, and now we want to say it’s OK to just smoke marijuana recreationally,’’ Carney told the audience. “Look, I don’t want to sound like a prude about it. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

For Osienski and other supporters, the fight will continue.

“I still firmly believe that Delaware is more than capable of successfully enacting policies for safe and legal cannabis, and I will continue working on this issue to win the support to make it a reality,” he said.

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