State Watch

Delaware governor vetoes marijuana legalization

Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) on Tuesday vetoed legislation that would have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, setting up a potential showdown with legislators who might try to force the measure into law over his objections.

Carney vetoed a measure to legalize possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for those who are over 21 years old. It would have allowed people to give marijuana to others, but it would not have set up a recreational sales scheme like those that exist in neighboring states.

In a message to legislators, Carney said he supported decriminalizing marijuana but that he could not go as far as legalization.

“I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people. Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved,” he wrote.

Opponents of marijuana legalization cheered Carney’s decision, equating the industry that would crop up after legalization with Big Tobacco.

“This was Gov. Carney’s Big Tobacco moment — and he did the right thing,” said ex-Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), co-founder of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Today is a win for public health, the citizens of Delaware, and common sense. Political leaders in Delaware have a rich history of standing up to Big Tobacco and marijuana is simply Big Tobacco’s new marketing strategy.”

Supporters of legalization said they were not surprised by Carney’s opposition. The second-term governor has long promised to block pot legalization.

In a statement, Laura Sharer, executive director of Delaware’s branch of NORML, a pro-legalization advocacy group, urged legislators to override Carney’s veto.

“We’re urging our General Assembly to see through this process, no matter the hurdles. Delawareans should not be left to bear the unjustifiable human costs of life-altering police stops, searches, and arrests for cannabis, a non-toxic plant,” Sharer said.

To override Carney’s veto, the Delaware General Assembly would need to muster three-fifths of the vote in both chambers, or 12 votes in the 20-member Senate and 24 votes in the 40-member House. On final passage, 13 senators and 26 representatives voted to approve the measure.

But Delaware has a long history of comity between the legislature and the governor. No governor has had a veto overridden since 1977, according to the Delaware News Journal. Legislators have not even tried to override a governor’s veto since 1990.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, including New Jersey and Virginia. Maryland voters will get the option to legalize marijuana at the ballot box later this year.

But the Delaware legislature is the only option for legalization in the First State, which has no referendum or ballot initiative option.

In a statement, state Rep. Ed Osienski (D), the bill’s prime sponsor, said legislators would review their options before deciding on next steps.

Tags Delaware John Carney John Carney marijuana legalization Patrick Kennedy

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