Marijuana New Jersey

FILE - In this March 22, 2019, file photo, marijuana buds are sorted into a prescription jar at Compassionate Care Foundation's medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. 

Cannabis is in the house again--the Delaware state House, where legislators are once again debating legalization with the start of the General Assembly's latest session. 

This might be the most optimistic advocates have been about the possibility of legalization in Delaware, Executive Director and co-founder of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network (DelCAN) Zoë Patchell said of House Bill 305. A weighty bill, the legislation has gone through significant revisions since the ideas it presents were first introduced. 

"The latest revisions incorporate bipartisan amendments that were introduced late in session last year, right before HB 150 was scheduled for a vote," Patchell said. "It basically includes language that strengthens underage use prevention, consumer safety, as well as the social equity provisions to the bill. And we're really hoping that the changes are enough to finally get the supermajority votes that we need to finally pass this."

Which the state needs, Patchell said, as Delaware's 150,000 adults already partake in consuming cannabis don't have the option for voter initiatives or referendums like many other states that have passed legalization do, such as neighboring New Jersey. 

She pointed out other states have declared cannabis for long enough now that another thing they have which Delaware doesn't are the numerous social and economic benefits that come along with the move. 

"It'll reduce government spending of taxpayer dollars by ending unnecessary enforcement," Patchell said. "It creates small business opportunities and thousands of jobs in a variety of both direct and ancillary fields. And it creates agricultural and economic development for communities throughout Delaware that will literally benefit all rural, urban, and suburban communities, from the bridge to the beaches."

Antiquated concerns held by those who stand in opposition of the legislation have been shown to simply not be true in places where legalization has occurred, she said, and the data is there to back it up for whomever cares to look. 

And while an illicit market already exists in the state, Patchell said, she pointed out embracing the infrastructure already there would be beneficial not just societally for those who desire access to cannabis, but for the state as a whole as it investigates ways to improve recovery efforts while Delaware continues to grapple with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic--still now raging on--which has led to job loss and small business closures in every community. 

"Cannabis legalization is a significant agricultural and economic development generator for communities throughout Delaware, and it's going to especially have a significant effect on agriculturally rich Sussex County," Patchell said. "Combined with the annual cost savings and revenue generation, this will significantly help states recover from the economic contraction from the COVID pandemic, all without implementing a broad-based tax on citizens. This is going to create jobs and replace businesses and shops that have completely disappeared because of the pandemic...The fact of the matter is this is a billion dollar industry that already exists, with or without legalization."

HB305 now includes amendments addressing things like the standardization of how laboratory facilities would be licensed, accreditation requirements, packaging and labeling specifications to enhance underage protections and the establishment of penalties for businesses caught violating underage sales restrictions, and the creation of the Justice Reinvestment Fund, which will allocate resources to communities historically disproportionately impacted by prohibition. 

"Data shows that Black, brown, and poor communities continue to see over-enforcement and significant amounts of cannabis offenses, despite similar usage rates amongst races,' Patchell said. "HB 305 will not only legalize cannabis, but it will begin to address the harms that have been created by prohibition, and right the wrongs that has been a product of that policy."