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Hearing on the proposed Delaware Marijuana Control Act, a bill that seeks to legalize the use and sale of recreational marijuana.
Jason Minto/The News Journal

Gov. John Carney will make good on last month’s promise to hold a second roundtable on marijuana – only this time with opponents of legalization.

The event is now scheduled for June 1 at Delaware Technical Community College’s George Campus in Wilmington, the same location as an April 19 roundtable the governor held with groups in support of legalizing the recreational use and sale of the drug.

“Next Thursday’s event will give him a chance to hear more from those who believe Delaware should not legalize marijuana for recreational purposes,” spokesman Jon Starkey said. “He looks forward to the discussion.”

Panelists invited to discuss their concerns include officials from AAA Mid-Atlantic; the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Association; the Medical Society of Delaware; and atTAcK Addiction, a nonprofit largely made up of people whose family members have suffered from opiate abuse.

All four groups are members of the Keep Delaware Safe and Healthy Coalition, a recently formed alliance between more than a dozen groups opposed to a bill that would make Delaware that ninth state to fully legalize marijuana.

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Introduced in March, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act would allow anyone 21 and older to purchase up to 1 ounce of marijuana from dozens of stores authorized to sell cannabis. The legislation also would authorize the creation of a marijuana industry that would include cultivation facilities, testing companies and manufacturing businesses that specialize in converting the plant into edibles, liquids, ointments and other end products.

The bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Helene Keeley, D-South Wilmington, and Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, estimate the measure could generate $22 million in annual tax revenue for Delaware, which is facing a nearly $400 million deficit.

The legislation was voted out of committee two weeks ago and is expected to be brought up for a vote by the full House next month.

Proponents include an increasingly professional and politically active pro-cannabis community that has been urging Carney and state legislators to support the bill. They argue legalization would curtail what is now an illegal and violent black market and reduce what they say are racially biased incarceration rates while helping to refill the state’s coffers.

So far, eight other states have legalized recreational marijuana through a popular referendum, something Delaware’s Constitution does not allow.

On the same day Delaware’s bill moved out of committee, Vermont’s General Assembly became the first legislature in the nation to approve a full legalization through legislative action. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott vetoed that measure Wednesday, however. 

Carney has voiced his opposition to full legalization at this time, noting Delaware already has legalized a medical marijuana program and decriminalized possession of less than an ounce.

But he has shown a willingness to hear from both sides, including last month’s pro-pot roundtable with the NAACP, the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network and the Delaware branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, among others.

During that meeting, a Middletown resident who opposes legalization called on Carney to hold a similar roundtable with opponents, a suggestion the governor promised to follow.

“Obviously, this is an important issue and we believe the governor is doing the right thing by holding these roundtables to hear as many voices as he can on the issue,” said Ken Grant, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic – by far the most vocal opponent of Delaware’s marijuana bill.

AAA and other groups claim full legalization would result in greater rates of drugged driving crashes, hospital emergency room visits, children being exposed to marijuana and increased addiction.

“I don’t think we’ve passed any other law in the hopes of raising revenue that also has diminished the level of public safety like this would,” said Jeffery Horvath, executive director of the police chiefs’ council. “If this is going to happen someday – and I hope it does not – we should at least let these other states like Colorado and Washington make the mistakes first so we can learn from them and then do it right.”

Keeley, who also will serve as a panelist, said she is eager to hear the concerns raised during next week’s roundtable.

“I think it’s only fair to hear both sides,” she said. “We’re already looking at possible amendments to the bill based on issues raised during the committee hearing, and I hope we can also address some of the things that will be brought up next week to make the bill even better.”

Zoe Patchell, executive director of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, said she and other proponents of the bill also plan to attend.

“Our goal is to provide research and science-based facts,” she said. “We’re also opposed to drugged driving so we actually want to work with these other groups to reach common ground.”

The June 1 roundtable is slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be open to the public.

Contact business reporter Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281, sgoss@delawareonline.com or on Twitter @ScottGossDel.

 

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