Delaware House passes legalization bill, but obstacles remain

Published on May 6, 2022
external photo of the brick Delaware capitol building, lit by elegant lampposts at sunset
Will Delaware be the next East Coast state to legalize cannabis? (Vasanth/Adobe Stock)

Delaware took a huge step towards legalizing adult-use cannabis yesterday. 

On a roughly 2-1 vote, the state House passed HB371, which would remove all penalties for possessing up to one ounce of cannabis. The proposed law would effectively legalize a “gifting” market—where free cannabis is thrown in with the purchase of a symbolic item or piece of art—by permitting the transfer of up to one ounce of cannabis without compensation. 

The bill does not, however, establish a regulatory framework for a state-licensed adult-use market. Proponents of legalization included those in a separate bill that they hope to pass soon.

HB371 now heads to the Delaware Senate, where its sponsor, Rep. Ed Osienski (D), believes it will pass handily. The bill, however, would additionally require the signature of Gov. John Carney (D), a vocal opponent of legalization.

“It’s a really big, huge day for us in terms of progress,” Zoe Patchell, the executive director of Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, told Delaware News Journal. “We still have a lot further to go.” 

Osienski’s gamble: Splitting legalization into two separate bills

The House’s passage of HB371 comes after years of unsuccessful attempts to legalize cannabis in Delaware. (The state decriminalized personal marijuana possession in 2015). 

This past March, the House considered a legalization bill that included a regulatory framework. That bill came up two votes short. That’s when Rep. Osienski decided to split it into two separate bills: HB371 and HB372, which includes a 15% tax on recreational sales, a mandatory 30 retail licenses, and prioritization for equity applicants.

Maryland will vote on legal cannabis in November

Osienski hopes that passing HB371 will force the hand of legalization opponents: If they don’t pass the separate regulatory bill, they would be stuck with an unregulated market.

Lastly, don’t forget that even if either or both bills pass the state Legislature, Governor Carney could very well still veto them. 

Stay tuned for the latest news on Delaware’s fight to legalize adult-use marijuana on Leafly.

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Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.
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