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Recreational marijuana bill faces questions over goal to end black market sales

Delaware Public Media

A bill seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in Delaware cleared its first hurdle Wednesday, despite questions about one of its key selling points.


The latest push to legalize recreational marijuana in the First State cleared the House Health & Human Development committee after it heard lawmakers and the public weigh in on State Rep. Ed Osienski’s (D-Brookside) bill for over three hours.


Osienski argues the bill will help get rid of the black market for marijuana, but  Republican lawmakers repeatedly challenged that notion.


Osienski says just like ending the prohibition of alcohol in the 1930’s, it may take a while to get rid of weed’s illegal market.


“We need to end this prohibition and regulate this and make it a legal market," Osienski said. "Yes, you can still buy moonshine — but is it thriving? No.”


Some states like Colorado have seen the black market grow since legalizing the drug, but much of that is because of home cultivation.


Under Delaware’s bill, recreational users would not be allowed to grow marijuana at home, an effort by Osienski to cut down on this illegal market.


Another concern raised was the limit on licenses the state would grant to distributors and growers. 


State Rep. Michael Smith (R-Newark) argues opening up this process more would actually help Osienski’s goal of removing the black market.


“If you truly opened it up that would actually help the medical cannabis market as well as the recreational cannabis market if we didn’t limit licensure," said Smith.


Some members of the medical cannabis community also appeared, saying the lower fees and costs to run a recreational marijuana business would drive the medical marijuana industry down the drain.


Representatives from medical marijuana dispensaries urged Osienski to restore a provision allowing them to sell recreational marijuana until the recreational industry can get up and running.


The bill now heads to House Appropriations, where the financial costs of the proposed recreational marijuana program will come under scrutiny.


Roman Battaglia a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.


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