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House lawmakers fail to override Carney veto of marijuana legalization

Prime Sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski gives a statement to the rally.
Rachel Sawicki
Delaware Public Media
Prime Sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski gives a statement to the rally.

Recreational marijuana use took its final hit this legislative session Tuesday when House lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Carney’s veto of a legalization bill.

The effort failed in a 20-20 vote with House Majority Leader Valarie Longhurst not voting.

Five Democrats who voted ‘yes’ on the bill didn’t stand their ground when it came to overriding Carney’s veto. State Reps. Stephanie Bolden, Andria Bennett, William Carson, and Sean Matthews voted against the override attempt. Longhurst was also previously a ‘yes’ vote,

Republicans Michael Ramone and Jeffrey Spiegelman also voted no on overriding the veto after backing the bill in May.

Before the vote, the bill’s sponsor State Rep. Ed Osienski pleaded with his colleagues to move ahead with legalization now - reiterating that over 61% of Delawareans support it.

“I think this body is quite capable of directing and fixing any issues that may come from the passage of this legislation," Osienski said on the House floor. "We need legalization. So I beg of my colleagues not to wait till 2025 to do this, but to override this veto, and then we can work together on the regulation and taxation.”

Osienski released a statement following the end of the House session on Wednesday and said the issue will remain at a standstill unless or until Carney changes his stance on legalizing adult recreational marijuana.

"I didn’t have enough votes in my own caucus alone – only 23 members initially voted for HB 371," Osienski said. "I didn’t have the support of all three Republicans who voted for the bill, which put the veto override out of reach. However, I felt it was important to the advocates and supporters who have fought for a safe, legal, regulated cannabis industry to see this process through to the end."

Carney said in a letter to the House he will continue to support decriminalization and medical marijuana, but he does not believe legalization is in the best interest of Delawareans, particularly young people -- adding issues over long-term health effects and law enforcement concerns remain unresolved.

Several advocates and even lawmakers like the bill’s Senate Sponsor Trey Paradee, said Carney’s reasoning for stalling legalization aligns with “Reefer Madness” propaganda.

At a rally earlier in the afternoon, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer joined over 150 advocates outside Legislative Hall to support an override. He argues marijuana prohibition is as much of a public policy failure as alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s.

“I have never seen an industry come forward and say ‘please tax us' and 'please regulate us' and that’s what the marijuana industry is doing," Meyer said. "I think we should listen to them, it makes a lot of sense for the people of our county and our state and I think the majority of people in our state know that.”

A companion bill to create and regulate a taxable market for marijuana was defeated in the House last month, and Osienski says he will not move to bring it back without passing legalization first.

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.