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Marijuana legalization is back on the docket for state lawmakers

Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers failed once again to legalize recreational marijuana last session. But the bill is coming back for a second try next year, with some changes.

Without the ability to send the decision to the voters in Delaware in a referendum, the debate over legalizing recreational marijuana remains in the hands of state lawmakers, who have failed to advance any legislation for years.

When the latest attempt by State Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark) saw a litany of last minute amendment fillings and debate over creating a social equity fund, efforts to get his bill passed this last session came to a halt.

Osienski says he’s spent recent months tweaking the bill and incorporating the amendments so it can finally get a vote.

He adds every year Delaware doesn’t legalize the drug, the state falls further behind in preparing for an eventual federal legalization.

“Talk has increased on getting something done federally and it would be nice if we were up and running — and our businesses were up and running,” Osienski said. “They would benefit from interstate commerce if the federal government ever opened it up.”

Osienski argues legalizing the drug before the federal government does allows small businesses owners to take a hold of the market before large corporations can start setting up massive nationwide marijuana industries.

He says having a governor opposed to marijuana legalization isn’t helping.

“Just the fact that he makes those statements I know has probably made my job a little harder,” he said. “It makes passing tough legislation a lot easier when you have the power and support of the governor’s office behind legislation.”

Gov. Carney has publicly opposed legalization mostly due to public health concerns, but hasn’t signaled he would veto the bill if it came to his desk.

Osienski is making changes to the bill to help get it passed, such as removing the creation of a social equity fund for businesses and instead having a commissioner look into funding and grant options.

He says creating a grant or loan program would mean he'd need even more lawmakers to vote in favor.

Osienski says while the revised bill may be more pared down compared to states like New Jersey, it may be the only way it gets passed.

Osienski plans to introduce the re-worked bill early to give it time to make its way through the legislature.

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

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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