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Delaware Lawmakers Reject Cannabis Bill, Delay Hopes of Legalization

Despite polls showing overwhelming public support for legal pot, residents of the First State will have to wait until at least 2019.

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Legislative Hall of Delaware; photo via iStock/ aimintang

Legislators in the Delaware House of Representatives shot down a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis on Wednesday, killing the legislation until next year.

According to the Delaware News Journal, representatives failed to muster the state’s required two-thirds supermajority approval, with 21 of 25 required votes. To make matters worse, five Democratic Representatives abstained from the vote altogether, essentially erasing the state’s partisan majority.

If passed, the Marijuana Control Act would have legalized the possession and use of cannabis for adults 21 years and older, and created framework to established a licensed and taxed retail market. Unlike legalization laws in California, Colorado and other west coast states, however, the bill would have banned home grows.

"We're devastated that the House of Representatives would vote against this citizen-led effort...and vote in favor of allowing the criminal market to control the most lucrative cash drop in Delaware," Zoe Patchell, head of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, said in a statement after Wednesday’s vote.

Delaware passed its medical marijuana law in 2011, and decriminalized minor cannabis possession in 2015 — both of which set the stage for the now-postponed Marijuana Control Act. Recent statewide polls show upwards of 60% public support for a comprehensive legalization law.

Still, consistent vocal opposition from local law enforcement organizations and roadway safety groups proved too much to overcome for Delaware legalization advocates in the state house, who will now have to wait until at least 2019 to vote on the cannabis reform measure again.

“I don’t think there’s any difference between someone going home and having a glass of wine or beer and someone going home and enjoying using cannabis,” said Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, who sponsored the bill. “Are there people out there who will not use it appropriately? Yes. There are people out there who use Ambien incorrectly, and use alcohol incorrectly, but I do believe the majority of people would use it appropriately.”

As Massachusetts prepares to welcome recreational cannabis sales this week, and states like Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Jersey move closer to full legalization, Wednesday’s vote was a significant setback for Delaware’s place in the bubbling East Coast green rush.

Despite the delay, cannabis advocates in the Delaware legislature remained confident that the state would move to legalize in the coming years, and that current detractors would soon be on the wrong side of history.

"This bill is going to pass," Rep. Trey Paradee, D-Cheswold, told reporters on Wednesday. "Maybe not tonight but it is inevitable."