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Delaware’s first bill to legalize recreational marijuana unveiled.
Jason Minto/The News Journal

Voters have peppered Gov. John Carney with questions about marijuana legalization at nearly every town hall meeting he’s held on the state’s structural budget deficit.

Now he’s planning to hold an event just for them.

Carney will host a roundtable discussion on marijuana legalization at Delaware Technical Community College’s George Campus in Wilmington on Wednesday.

“Gov. Carney understands that many Delawareans support legalizing marijuana, and Wednesday’s event is a listening session for the governor to hear more about the potential merits of legalization,” said Jonathan Starkey, the governor’s communications director. “He is also working to understand the potential unintended consequences of passing such a law in Delaware.”

The public event will begin at 4 p.m. on 4/19, a time and date awfully close to the 420 code favored by many marijuana aficionados.

“I’m glad it’s not on 4/20 because we have an event planned that day,” said Cynthia Ferguson, director of pro-cannabis reform group Delaware NORML.

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Ferguson is among six marijuana legalization supporters who have been invited to join Carney on stage at the event.

Among them are State Rep. Helene Keeley, D-South Wilmington, and State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, who have co-sponsored a bill that seeks to make Delaware the ninth state to legalize recreational marijuana’s use and sale.

The proposed Delaware Marijuana Control Act would create a commission to regulate, license and tax marijuana business in the state. Up to 40 retails stores could be licensed to sell marijuana under the bill, with medical marijuana dispensaries given the first opportunity to open retail operations. Consumers would be required to pay a $50-per-ounce excise tax, while retailers would be charged a $5,000 application fee and a $10,000 annual licensing fee.

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Keeley and Henry estimate the act could generate $22 million in annual tax revenue for Delaware, which is currently facing an $386 million deficit.

Money generated from taxes and fees, they said, would first be directed toward covering administrative costs. The remaining funds would be allocated toward education, programs aimed at helping prisoners re-enter society, drug abuse rehabilitation and prevention programs and initiatives aimed at training police officers to recognize whether drivers are under the influence of marijuana and other drugs.

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Marijuana advocates demonstrate support for legalization at the corner of Library Avenue and East Main Street in Newark late last year. (Photo: KYLE GRANTHAM/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

A poll conducted by the University of Delaware last year found that more than 60 percent of state residents support full legalization of marijuana. The Delaware Police Chief’s Council is opposed the measure, however.

Carney has said he believes the state needs to focus on getting its 6-year-old medical marijuana program fully operational. Delaware also is still adjusting to a 2015 state law that decriminalized marijuana, downgrading possession of an ounce from a criminal offense to a civil violation.

Carney says he also wants to allow more time to study the impact of legalization efforts in the eight other jurisdictions that have approved such measures, including Colorado, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

Marijuana legalization supporters invited to participate in Carney’s roundtable on Wednesday say they see the event as an indication the governor is keeping an open mind on the issue.

“It means he’s listening to the voters who want to tax and regulate cannabis like alcohol for adults over the age of 21,” said Zoë Patchell, executive director of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network. “There is an abundance of research out there that show the benefits of legalization and we’re optimistic the governor is willing to have this conversation.”

Carney’s roundtable is expected to begin with opening statements from each panelist followed by a question-and-answer period between them and the governor. A limited public comment periord will be held at the end of the event, Starkey said.

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

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