A bill to decriminalize marijuana and set up a legal sales system that favors minority entrepreneurs passed through its first committee hearing Wednesday.
After a three-and-one-half hour hearing, the House Health and Human Development Committee voted overwhelming to pass the 49-page bill, mostly along party lines, but with one Republican voted to pass it for a larger discussion.
Rep. Edward Osienski, D-Newark, said House Bill 150 still had to go through House Appropriations Committee before going to the house floor.
The bill would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal consumption.
It also “creates the legal framework to license and regulate a new industry that will create well-paying jobs for Delawareans while striking a blow against the criminal element which profits from the thriving illegal market in our state,” Osienski said.
Several state agencies and health organizations expressed concern about the bill as written.
Alanna Mozeik of the Delaware Division of Public Health pointed out that there are links between use of marijuana and developing drug dependencies and suggested some tax money be steered to state behavioral health programs. She also said the licenses fees should be raised from $10,000 to $20,000 and $3o,000 to be line with medical marijuana center licenses of $40,000.
Public Health would also like to see language about outdoor cultivation struck to protect the crop from contamination by insects and pesticides, as well as avoid security issues, Mozeik said.
Nikko Brady of the Delaware Department of Agriculture wanted Osienski to more clearly define what marijuana is so that the bill did not bleed over into hemp production, which is allowed and regulated by her department. She also said the marijuana should be grown indoors, to protect the crop and to avoid violent threats and other issues that hemp growers have had to deal with.
Dr. Alyssa Smith of Nemours Children’s Hospital’s palliative care program urged Osienski to enact more specific and more strict labeling rules to protect children and to include warnings to pregnant women.
Jamie Johnson of the Delaware Department of Finance said, among other things, that it was unclear why a marijuana commissioner would be collecting tax and reporting it to the Division of Revenue instead of having one agency handle it all. He also said that the bill should specify that owners would have to pay gross receipts tax for anything bought in the store in addition to the 15% tax on the marijuana itself.
John Yeomans, director of the state Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement group, said that based on experiences of his peers in other states, he was going to need three and one-half times the manpower, which also means more training and more expense for equipment and offices.
Lobbyist James DeChene said on behalf of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce that while the bill did not restrict employer rights, it also didn’t prohibit the use of marijuana in off hours. That will lead to confusion and conflicts, he said.
Among other things, the bill as written would:
- Regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol, with a fee of 15% at the point of sale.
- Allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Amounts more than that would be subject to penalties already spelled out in state law.
- Allow adults to buy one ounce of marijuana from a licensed retail marijuana store.
- Ask the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement to absorb marijuana enforcement and also create a separate administrative Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
- Allow 30 retail licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and five testing licenses.
- Use a scoring system that rewards applicants for paying a living wage, providing employer-paid health insurance, providing a defined benefit pension plan, providing sick and paid leave to workers, hiring more full-time workers, focusing on diversity of workforce, using a union and other factors.
- Create new a license pools for Social Equity. Candidates would either live in a disproportionately affected area, been convicted of a marijuana related offense (except selling to a minor), or are the child of a person convicted of a marijuana offense. Applicants would have access to technical assistance, reduced fees, and access to a revolving Social Equity Loan fund, among other things
- Create a Microbusiness Applicant pool for applicants with majority ownership held by residents, to avoid the system being take over by national companies with no local ties. These applicants would have reduced fees, though higher than Social Equity applicants. These applicants would have access to Cultivation and Product Manufacturing Licenses.
- Expunge all prior marijuana-related offenses, provided the individual has no convictions for violent felonies.
- Ban recreational marijuana from being sold in medical marijuana compassion centers.
- Allow municipalities to prohibit the operation of marijuana facilities within their borders through local ordinances
- Forbid public consumption of marijuana, as well as consumption anywhere smoking is banned.
- Not conflict with any employer program that bans its employees from consuming marijuana, including testing and zero tolerance.