The Delaware State House in Dover. Credit: Jim Bowen / Flickr

House Bill 305 lost a floor vote in Delaware late last week, leaving the First State to contemplate what the next step in adult use cannabis legalization will be.

While New York is advancing its cannabis efforts, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is already accounting for as-of-yet legal cannabis sales as a part of the state’s budget, Delaware failed to move forward with its best effort yet to pass adult use cannabis in HB 305, failing to garner a required supermajority vote in the House of Representatives.

“I am shocked,” said Laura Sharer, Executive Director of Delaware NORML. “Coming from an advocate’s point of view, I thought we had it. We had been working closely with the lawmakers.

“It was a sad day.”

While Delaware, along with Vermont, was one of the first states to take preliminary measures to legalize medical cannabis half a decade ago, follow-up in regards to adult use has failed to pass multiple times. Backed by Rep. Ed Osienski, this most recent bill was expected to move forward despite Gov. John Carney’s hesitation to approve cannabis related acts.

“The sting is worse than when we went through this back in 2018,” said Sharer. “Under previous legislation we had missed by five votes, this time we missed by two. It’s progress, but a devastating blow.”

Initially introduced as HB 150 in June of last year, Sharer was convinced, like many others, that advocate groups had done enough to ensure they would get the vote.

“We went into Thursday thinking we would have a successful day,” said Zoë Patchell, the board chair and president of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network. “We even had some reps who spoke on the floor who had given us a confirmed “Yes” vote.

“There was an issue with last minute amendments that we considered a poison pill.”

The final vote tally of 23 in favor, 14 not in favor and four abstaining, fell just short of the super majority number of 25. Among those abstaining were Democratic Rep. Stephanie Bolden and Republican Rep. Jeff Spiegalman.

Bolden has ties to Delaware NORML and Spiegalman cited an unspecified conflict of interest, possibly pertaining to his work as a real estate agent, according to inquiries he responded to on his Facebook page. He said he was advised by attorneys on the matter.

“This is the first time in my four-year real estate career it has been an issue,” said Spiegelman, reached via email. “So no, it doesn’t happen that often.”

HB 305, as previously reported,  would have created four license types (cultivation, manufacturing, laboratory, and retail) under three different categories (open, social equity, and micro licenses). Many of the 125 initial licenses the bill offered were designated for social equity applicants.

“We all felt confident, apparently overly confident,” said Sharer. “On our end as advocates, we are asking tough questions of our lawmakers and trying to find out what happened in the final hours last week.

“Why is it taking so long? Why is Governor Carney opposed to this? Is there political overreach? To not move forward on this is enraging.

“305 is definitely dead.”