Delaware Lawmaker And Marijuana Commissioner Talk Next Steps To Streamline Legalization Implementation

The Delaware lawmaker behind the state’s marijuana legalization law says he will be introducing cleanup legislation in the coming days to help “get the industry up and running” as regulators continue to propose rules and consider the possibility of letting existing medical cannabis dispensaries start selling to adult consumers sooner.

Rep. Ed Osienski (D) and Delaware Marijuana Commissioner Robert Coupe gave updates on the work to stand-up the cannabis market during interviews with Delaware Public Radio last week, explaining how the implementation process may be further tweaked to expedite sales.

Osienski gave credit to the governor, who allowed legalization to take effect without his signature last year, for quickly appointing Coupe, saying the commissioner has been “very full speed ahead in trying to get this up and running.”

“He’s pointed out quite a few little technical changes in HB 2, which we have worked together to get that drafted and we might be filing that as soon as next week,” he said. “That’s going to help him get the regulations complete and get the industry up and running.”

One area the forthcoming cleanup bill will address is residency requirements for marijuana businesses. Currently, the law limits licensees to established Delaware residents, but the commissioner has raised concerns about the possibility of litigation from multi-state operators challenging that requirement, as has played out in other states.

“We do have residency requirement language in HB 2 because we felt we wanted to make sure that this legislation gave Delawareans an opportunity to get into this industry,” Osienski said. “So we are looking at language to basically remove that residency requirement.”

Coupe also discussed how regulators have asked the legislature to consider enacting legislation that would allow the state’s current medical marijuana dispensaries to convert to dual licensees that could serve patients and adult consumers alike. However, he acknowledged concerns that doing so could give those operators an unfair advantage and that demand might be so high that patient access could be compromised.

“We don’t see them as taking the whole market, but they would be a supplement to it,” he said.

“If we’re not able to meet the market demands, our medical patients might not be able to get the marijuana that they’re taking for medicinal purposes, so we don’t want that to happen,” Coupe said. “We don’t want folks to go to stores and having to sell out. We don’t want outrageously long lines because there’s only 13 locations. So we see them as a supplement to the total program, but we don’t see them as a replacement.”

At the very least, however, Coupe said it was important to amend the law so that the state’s medical cannabis program and adult-use market are regulated under the same body, not separate agencies as is currently the case.

In the meantime, the commission has already put forward two rounds of proposed regulations covering the adult-use licensing process, advertising, transportation and more. The plan is to release the complete regulatory proposal for public comment in May and have them finalized by July 11.

As it stands, Coupe has said that retail marijuana sales in the state may not start until March 2025, four months later than initially planned.

Osienski, meanwhile, also talked about separate legislation he’s sponsoring that was approved in the House last month to significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

The legislation would make a series of changes to the state program, including removing limitations for patient eligibility based on a specific set of qualifying health conditions. Instead, doctors could issue marijuana recommendations for any condition they see fit.

It would also allow patients over the age of 65 to self-certify for medical cannabis access without the need for a doctor’s recommendation.

Osienski said that the measure is responsive to concerns from the medical cannabis industry, with dispensaries noticing a decline in the patient population as surrounding states have enacted adult-use legalization.

He also addressed certain lawmakers’ concerns with the bill’s self-certification provisions for senior citizens, saying “not everybody understands cannabis and I’ve been following it for almost eight years because I was working on this legislation.”

“I feel very confident that we’re not putting Delawareans in danger by allowing this, but not all my colleagues [agree]. So naturally, they’re concerned,” he said. “They feel this is a drug and we’re allowing somebody to basically self prescribe without seeing a doctor. But I think as they learn and they understand this more—and we did have the support of our medical commissioner to make this change—I think this is going to be a positive thing.”

“The thing we wanted to do with patients 65 and older by allowing them to self-certify, they can go to the dispensary, get medical [cannabis] and they’re not charged a 15 percent tax,” he said. “So it also saves our seniors some money for this.”

The lawmaker additionally discussed his concerns with multiple localities across the state preemptively banning cannabis businesses from operating in their jurisdiction.

“I’m hearing their arguments or reasonings bring back a lot of what I heard in debate when we tried to get legislation passed with HB 2,” Osienski said. “I think it’s a lot of not understanding cannabis. But I look at it as something that’s actually safer than alcohol, but nobody’s putting in special zoning ordinances for liquor stores or alcohol and distribution.”

He added that the local opt-out rules are also “concerning” because it means people living in those jurisdictions may ultimately be closer to Maryland so they may choose to get their products from out-of-state sources.

“I think it causes some problems, but we’re going to try to work around that,” he said. “And then, hopefully, they’ll realize once this gets up and running and they can go back and change their ordinances.”

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Last year, after the passage of his two bills to legalize cannabis, Osienski gave advice to lawmakers in other states who are pushing for marijuana reform.

“The key was just to keep plugging away at it and see what the other states have done and see what works best for your state,” he said last May.

He also advised legislators to sit down with “affected state agencies” like the Departments of Health, Finance and Agriculture.

“We had to sit down through meeting after meeting to try to work out a lot of the issues,” he said.

Separately, the Delaware Senate separately approved a resolution last March that urges the state’s congressional representatives to support legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.

In 2022, Gov. John Carney (D) vetoed a more narrowly tailored bill that would have clarified that medical marijuana patients are not prohibited from buying, possessing or transferring firearms under state law.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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