A motion to overturn Democratic Governor John Carney’s veto of a key cannabis legalization bill, House Bill 371, was declined by members of the Delaware House late last night. The vote was 20 yes, 20 no, and 1 not voting.
“We commend Representative Osienski’s dedication to this crucial criminal justice reform and trying every avenue available,” said Delaware NORML‘s Executive Director Laura Sharer.
“I feel exasperated that lawmakers have failed to enact this common sense policy reform,” said Sharer. “While we the people are committed to ending prohibition in Delaware, it’s clear that our process and some of our lawmakers aren’t up to the task.”
Representatives Andria Bennet and Rep. Sean Matthews co-sponsored HB 371 but voted “no” on the override. Representative Valerie Longhurst was also a cosponsor and was the one member recorded as “not voting.”
House Bill 371 would have legalized one ounce of cannabis for adults over 21. It was passed in May with 26 votes in the House. Today’s override needed 25 to pass.
“We’ve seen too many near-misses for legalization in Delaware, this has been nothing short of justice denied,” said Sharer.
Despite the enactment of a decriminalization law in 2015, thousands of people continue to endure police interactions over cannabis in Delaware every year; hundreds are charged and prosecuted.
“Putting off cannabis reform is only hurting our communities,” said Lizzie Golob who serves on DENORML’s Board of Directors.
Veto overrides are rare in Dover; the last attempt was in the 1990’s, and the last successful one was back in 1977.
More than 150 veterans and activists with DENORML and DECAN arrived in Dover today at noon to urge quick action. James Baldus, a National Guard vet who also serves on DENORML’s Board was direct: “I live in Rep. Mike Smith’s district and he voted to override today. Still, it’s despicable that so many of our lawmakers are not listening to their own people.”
The House met in a closed caucus all afternoon, returning around 6pm. Representative Ed Oseinski, the sponsor of HB 371, made an impassioned plea and a roll call was quickly conducted. After it concluded, Rep. Osienski offered an epilogue with tears in his eyes.
House Bill 371 would have prevented nearly 6,000 cannabis possession offenses that occur every year, and it would have also prevented law enforcement from using the real, perceived, or alleged odor of cannabis as probable cause to perform warrantless searches.
DENORML’s Laura Sharer noted that Gov. Carney’s assertion that no cannabis arrests are happening is false.
“Sadly, cannabis prohibition remains a gateway to the criminal justice system in Delaware for thousands every year. This reform will protect both residents and tourists from unnecessary law enforcement encounters,” said Sharer.
Additional information is available at: www.DeNORML.org.