Currently three growers and four medical-marijuana dispensaries operate in the state. The new Marijuana Control Act would increase the number of cannabis businesses, adding 50 new indoor and outdoor farms, 30 manufacturing and processing facilities, and 15 new retail stores.
Zoe Patchell, president of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, said that despite the hurdles, there's still a chance the bill could pass before the summer break. The state can't afford to wait, she said. Enormous numbers of residents still are being charged with petty marijuana offenses.
"Even with decriminalization, we still had over 5,400 people charged with possession last year," she said. "That's a lot of damaged lives. This bill would remove civil and criminal penalties for possession up to an ounce, or 5 grams of concentrates."
Legalization could entice residents of Pennsylvania -- where several legalization bills are pending with little promise of passing anytime soon -- to drive south, much as they do now for no-tax liquor. It also might prompt New Jersey, where a bill to legalize stalled after a political war broke out between Gov. Phil Murphy and South Jersey power broker George Norcross. Stymied, Murphy has instructed the New Jersey Department of Health to greatly expand the state's medical-marijuana program in the meantime.
If Delaware votes to legalize, it becomes part of a national trend. On May 31, Illinois became the 11th state to approve weed for adult recreational use. Illinois residents can purchase and hold up to 30 grams (just over an ounce) of cannabis. Nonresidents can possess up to half that amount.
Paradee calls the Delaware bill a "very modest, measured rollout." But for some, it doesn't go far enough.
"We're getting quite a bit of pushback from cannabis advocates because there's no home-grow in the bill," Osienski said. "We felt it could feed into the black market. We wanted to do every thing we could to avoid it getting to minors. How do you police that? With homegrown that's tough to do."
Paradee said he would have liked to see homegrown included, especially for medical patients.
"But following conversations with other legislators, we felt that we'd lose votes," he said. "Perhaps we can have home-grow added down the road if we get this passed. It could be something we'll try to do a year or two later, or just for medical patients."
The new bill will put regulation under the control of the state's Division of Alcohol & Tobacco Enforcement. Osienski said that under the preexisting agency, a recreational program would be faster and less expensive to set up.