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Politics & Government

Governor Carney vetoes marijuana legalization bill

Delaware Public Media

Governor John Carney has vetoed a bill that would have removed all penalties for possessing small quantities of recreational marijuana on Tuesday, citing his long-standing concerns about the health and public safety impacts of marijuana use and sales.

"I recognize the positive effect marijuana can have for people with certain health conditions, and for that reason, I continue to support the medical marijuana industry in Delaware," he wrote in a statement on Tuesday. "I supported decriminalization of marijuana because I agree that individuals should not be imprisoned solely for the possession and private use of a small amount of marijuana — and today, thanks to Delaware’s decriminalization law, they are not. That said, I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people."

State Rep. Edward Osienski’s (D-Newark) bill was the simpler half of a two-pronged effort to legalize recreational marijuana sales and use; the bill passed in the Senate earlier this month. A companion bill—also sponsored by Osienski—establishing regulations for the sale and production of marijuana failed in the state's House of Representatives last week. Osienski may, however, have a chance to have the latter bill reconsidered before the end of this year's legislative session.

Osienski issued a response to Carney's veto on Tuesday, citing the support of a majority of Delawareans for the legalization effort and the failure of prohibition to stem marijuana use.

“Unfortunately, the governor has chosen to ignore the will of residents and a bipartisan super-majority of the General Assembly by vetoing HB 371," he wrote. "I’m deeply disappointed in his decision, especially since he could have allowed the bill to become law without his signature, which would have preserved both his personal opposition and the will of the residents and legislators. I will review what options are available and decide on any next steps at a later time."

Osienski also noted that Delawareans who continue to use recreational marijuana will either purchase it illegally or travel to New Jersey, boosting that state's tax revenues.

The bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover), and Senate President Pro Tem. David Sokola (D-Newark) also responded to Carney's veto on Tuesday, commenting that "while his veto of House Bill 371 will not stop adults from consuming marijuana, it will help to preserve the illegal drug market created by 50 years of prohibition and criminalization that historically has been unjustly and inequitably applied to communities of color."

They pointed to the 18 states that have already legalized recreational marijuana as a source of answers to the Governor's questions about the public safety and economic impacts of marijuana legalization.

Zoe Patchell, executive director of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, says she is hopeful the state legislature will override Carney’s veto.

"The bill passed with three-fifths supermajority support in both chambers," she said, "and we’re hoping that the Delaware lawmakers who have already voted in favor of upholding the will of the majority of Delawareans will continue to vote in support of this bill.”

Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council Executive Director Jeffrey Horvath supports Carney’s veto, arguing public safety data from states that have legalized recreational marijuana raises concerns for law enforcement.

Accidents increased, the use of marijuana by adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 went up exponentially," he claimed. "It didn’t get rid of the black market like they keep saying. In fact, none of the states that have legalized it can claim they got rid of the black market; in many of the states, it’s gotten stronger.”

Horvath predicted, however, that some version of the measure will eventually pass in the legislature, though he hopes to see adjustments to the proposal—including a standard for measuring impaired driving—before that happens.

Read Gov. Carney's full veto statement: