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Marijuana legalization fails after stunning series of events, political maneuvering

Charles Megginson Government, Headlines

Marijuana Legalization

House Bill 305, also known as the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, sought to legalize the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana. (Getty Images)

The bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Delaware came to a stunning end in the House of Representatives when it failed after a series of events:

  • A two-hour-long recess was called by Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf so the Democratic caucus could meet.
  • Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, a Republican who previously signaled support for legalization, announced that he would not be voting because of a conflict of interest. He did not elaborate.
  • Rep. Mike Smith, a Republican who had publicly stated that he would be voting for the bill, introduced four amendments, three of which failed. He did it, he said, to “prove that [Democrats] do not care about bipartisanship” and then withdrew his support.
  • A hastily conducted roll call fell short by two votes.
  • The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Osieski, waited too long to switch his vote from yes to no. That would have allowed him to bring the bill back to the floor later in the legislative session. 

The bill needed a ⅗ majority, or 25 votes, to pass.

It received 23 yes votes and 14 no votes with 4 not voting:

table

A House rule would have allowed the bill to be reintroduced later in the legislative session by any representative who voted against the measure. 

For that reason, Osienski attempted to change his vote from yes to no after the roll call ended but before Schwartzkopf banged his gavel. 

Osienski spoke up too late. Here’s the exchange:

Osienski: “Mr. Speaker — I was going to change my yes vote to a no.”

Schwartzkopf: “Little late now. Can’t do it now.”

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst: “Can we rescind the roll call?”

Schwartzkopf: “Huh?”

Longhurst: “Can I rescind the roll call?”

Schwartzkopf: “You don’t need to.”

Longhurst: “Can’t rescind it?”

Schwartzkopf: “You can’t do it. They’ve already called it down.”

Multiple members asked aloud if the roll call could be rescinded. Others said it couldn’t because the vote had already concluded and Schwartzkopf’s gavel was down.

That means that for the bill to be reintroduced in 2022, either a Republican or Schwartzkopf – who did not vote for the bill – would have to reintroduce it. That seems unlikely to happen. 

Schwarzkopf announced that the House would recess until 2 p.m. Tuesday.

In a press release after the session, Osienski said “For the past several years, the majority of Delawareans have been clear that they support legalizing recreational marijuana for adult users. We have heard from numerous members of the public – advocates, veterans, retired law enforcement officers, educators and even faith leaders – who have overwhelmingly voiced support for legalizing adult recreational marijuana.”

“During that time, we have had numerous meetings with stakeholders, made several changes to our legislation, and engaged lawmakers to answer their questions and attempt to address their concerns. After all of this effort, I believe we owed it to the residents of Delaware to hold a full floor debate and vote on this issue. While I’m deeply disappointed by the outcome, I still firmly believe that Delaware is more than capable of successfully enacting policies for safe and legal cannabis, and I will continue working on this issue to win the support to make it a reality.”

“For the advocates who have put in the time and effort these past four years, I’m grateful for your support and your passion on this issue, and I hope you will continue to make your voice heard on this issue. Throughout my time in the House, I’ve seen advocates sway opponents to various bills, and I believe legal recreational marijuana for adult users is no different.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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