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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

Emilio Nazario does not consider himself to be a political activist.

The Dover-area resident had never even been to Legislative Hall until March.

But that didn’t stop the 61-year-old from requesting a meeting to talk about marijuana with Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton.

“I’m not a cannabis user,” he said. “I’m a Hispanic who has seen what our drug policy does to people of color.”

Smith was among about 30 volunteers who spent Thursday trying to drum up support for House Bill 110 while opponents worked to do just the opposite.

Also known as the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, the bill would make it legal for anyone 21 and older to purchase up to 1 ounce of marijuana from stores that would be authorized to sell cannabis. Retailers would be part of a new state-authorized marijuana industry that also would include cultivation facilities, testing companies and manufacturing businesses.

 

The measure was passed out of a House committee on Wednesday, and lead sponsor Rep. Helene Keeley, D-South Wilmington, says she now plans to call for a vote by the full House of Representatives in June.

STORY: Delaware marijuana legalization bill passes committee test

STORY: The faces of marijuana legalization in Delaware

To pass, the bill would need support from two-thirds of each the House and Senate, a supermajority required to amend certain criminal penalties. Reaching that bar likely would require votes from both Democrats and Republicans.

“I think I’m very close,” Keeley said when asked about the bill’s chances in the House. “But I don’t want it to just pass. My goal is to have as many people vote for it [as possible] and convince them this is the right thing to do.”

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Marijuana legalization advocate John Peters of Newark engages in a heated debate with Jim Lardear of AAA Mid-Atlantic over the issues during a lobbying day at Legislative Hall. (Photo: SCOTT GOSS/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 bill also has received enthusiastic support from an increasingly professional and active pro-cannabis community. A group called the Delaware Cannabis Policy Coalition, made up of several pro-legalization organizations, has been pressuring lawmakers and Gov. John Carney to support the measure in recent weeks.

The proponents claim full legalization would curtail what is now an illegal and violent black market while adding an estimated $22 million a year to Delaware’s coffers through taxes and fees on the drug.

“Everyone talks about money in politics, but this is all being done by volunteers,” said Zoe Patchell, executive director of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network and a registered lobbyist. “This is all about the will of the people, and we’re hopeful our elected officials will listen to their constituents on this issue.”

Nearly a dozen influential organizations are working just as hard to convince legislators to oppose the measure.

Led by AAA Mid-Atlantic, the Keep Delaware Safe and Healthy Coalition includes associations representing law enforcement, major employers, hospitals, doctors, nurses and anti-addiction advocates – all opposed to HB 110.

They argue full marijuana legalization would increase the risk of drugged driving crashes, expose more children to the drug, create a host of liability issues for local businesses and potentially increase the rate of addiction and homelessness in the state.

“We got to keep talking to people to educate the public and legislators,” said Cathy Rossi, AAA’s vice president for public and government affairs. “The opposition is well versed in its talking points … and we’re not going to take anything for granted.”

 

AAA conducted its own lobbying effort on Thursday by setting up an “interactive marijuana experience” in Legislative Hall’s cafeteria. Legislators and other passersby were invited to wear goggles that eliminate the color red from the user’s vision.

The user then was asked to trace a line through a paper maze lined by red walls – an attempt to demonstrate the drugged driving risks that AAA says would increase if recreational marijuana were to become legalized.

“This exercise does not in any way, shape or form duplicate the effects of marijuana or THC in your system,” said Matthew Eskridge, AAA’s traffic safety program manager. “What we’ve done is take away a cognitive function, which is what marijuana does.”

Cannabis advocates ridiculed the “weed goggles” as a scare tactic.

But House Minority Whip Rep. Deborah Hudson, R-Hockessin, said she found the display helpful. Hudson is opposed to HB 110 and believes Delaware should study legalization in other states before enacting a similar law here. 

“But I wanted to learn more,” she said. “The whole fuzzy vision is really very frightening.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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