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Delaware lawmakers refuse to override cannabis legalization veto

A motion to override Democratic Gov. John Carney’s veto of a key cannabis legalization bill, House Bill 371, was defeated by members of the Delaware House late last night. The vote was 20 yes, 20 no and 1 not voting.

“We salute Rep. Osienski’s dedication to this crucial criminal justice reform and the pursuit of every avenue available,” said Delaware NORMLThe executive director of Laura Sharer.

“I’m exasperated that lawmakers have failed to enact this common-sense policy reform,” Sharer said. “While we the people are determined to end Prohibition in Delaware, it is clear that our process and some of our lawmakers are not up to the task.”

Representatives Andria Bennet and Representative Sean Matthews co-sponsored HB 371 but voted “no” to the waiver. Representative Valerie Longhurst was also a co-sponsor and was the only member recorded as “non-voting”.

House Bill 371 would have legalized one ounce of cannabis for adults over 21. It passed in May with 26 votes in the House. Today’s waiver took 25 to pass.

“We’ve seen too many near misses for legalization in Delaware, it’s been nothing short of a miscarriage of justice,” Sharer said.

Despite the enactment of a decriminalization law in 2015, thousands of people continue to experience cannabis-related interactions with police each year in Delaware; hundreds are charged and prosecuted.

“Delaying cannabis reform only hurts our communities,” said Lizzie Golob, who sits on DENORML’s board of directors.

Waivers of the veto are rare in Dover; the last attempt dates back to the 1990s and the last successful one dates back to 1977.

More than 150 veterans and activists from Delaware NORML and DECAN arrived in Dover at noon today demanding swift action. James Baldus, a National Guard veterinarian who also sits on the Delaware NORML board, was blunt: “I live in Rep. Mike Smith’s district and he voted to override today. Yet it is despicable that so many of our legislators do not listen to their own people.

The House met in closed caucus all afternoon, returning around 6 p.m. Representative Ed Oseinski, the sponsor of HB 371, makes an impassioned plea and a roll call is quickly made. After its conclusion, Rep. Osienski offered a teary-eyed epilogue.

House Bill 371 would have prevented nearly 6,000 cannabis possession offenses that occur each year, and it would also have prevented law enforcement from using the actual, perceived, or suspected scent of cannabis as probable cause to carry out warrantless searches.

Laura Sharer of Delaware NORML noted that Governor Carney’s assertion that no cannabis arrests are occurring is false.

“Unfortunately, cannabis prohibition remains a gateway to Delaware’s criminal justice system for thousands of people each year. This reform will protect both residents and tourists from unnecessary encounters with law enforcement. “said Sharer.

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