In rare form, a Democratic governor vetoed legislation that aims to legalize the possession of 1 ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older in Delaware. 

Gov. John Carney, who is term-limited and cannot seek reelection in November 2024, sent House Bill 371 back to the state General Assembly without his signature on May 24.

That bill received three-fifths majority support in the House via a 26-14 vote May 5, as well as three-fifths majority support in the Senate via a 13-7 vote May 12, indicating that the legislation has enough clout behind it to override Carney’s veto.  

In a veto statement released Tuesday, Carney said he recognizes the positive effects that medical cannabis can have for people with certain health conditions and continues to support that industry in Delaware.  

“That said, I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people,” he said. “Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved.”

The vetoed legislation would not implement a commercial cultivation and retail industry but rather allow for the simple possession and transfer of 1 ounce or less of cannabis between those 21 and older, as long as no money is involved in the transfer.  

Carney is the first Democratic governor to veto a cannabis legalization bill, according to advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). 

Olivia Naugle, a senior policy analyst at MPP, called the governor’s veto a true injustice.  

“This important legislation would dramatically reduce the number of police interactions, searches, and citations for cannabis possession in Delaware,” Naugle said in a statement. “We know cannabis laws are unequally enforced, and it is Black Delawareans who are disproportionately stopped, searched, and penalized for cannabis, or for the supposed smell of cannabis.

“After condemning the traumatic search of the DSU women’s lacrosse team in Georgia, Gov. Carney has failed to stand for justice for the same types of intrusive searches at home in Delaware by vetoing H.B. 371.”

Delaware State University is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). In early March, its women’s lacrosse team’s chartered bus was stopped and searched by police with drug-sniffing dogs while traveling through Georgia.

Carney called that incident “upsetting, concerning and disappointing,” in a statement

But in his May 24 veto, Carney said he was clear about his position on cannabis legalization before he took office and has articulated those concerns many times since.

Carney’s veto comes at a time when 72% of Delaware voters support legalization, according to Civiqs polling. 

With H.B. 371 returned to the state House, the Delaware General Assembly now has the opportunity to do something that has not been done since 1977—override a governor’s veto, according to the Delaware News Journal. The last time it was even attempted was in 1990.

“I respect the legislative branch’s role in this process, and I understand that some hold a different view on this issue,” Carney said in his statement.

The vetoed legislation is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Ed Osienski, who is also trying to pass companion legislation, H.B. 372, which would create a regulated and licensed adult-use cannabis industry in the state. The companion bill came one vote shy of House passage on May 19—with a key supporter out sick from the vote that day—but Osienski holds the right to bring it back to the floor for reconsideration when the chamber reconvenes from a recess next month.

RELATED: Delaware Adult-Use Cannabis Bill One Vote Shy of House Passage Amidst Key Lawmaker’s Absence

Osienski’s attempt at passing complementary legislation comes on the heels of an all-inclusive proposal, H.B. 305, coming up short of House passage in early March.

Despite that defeat, Osienski said in a public statement his efforts remain undeterred.

“I still firmly believe that Delaware is more than capable of successfully enacting policies for safe and legal cannabis, and I will continue working on this issue to win the support to make it a reality,” he said.