Delaware became the 17th state to legalize marijuana for adult use last month, but residents will have to wait a long time before they can buy it legally from a store. The state has a complex and lengthy process to set up a regulated and licensed cannabis industry, which could take up to two years or more.
Governor’s Reluctance and Timeline
Gov. John Carney, who has been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, did not sign or veto the bills that legalized possession and established a commercial program. He let them become law without his signature, citing concerns about the impact on children, public safety, and disadvantaged communities.
The governor has until Sept. 29 to appoint a marijuana commissioner, who will be in charge of creating an oversight office, drafting regulations, and issuing licenses. The commissioner must be confirmed by the state Senate, which could take some time depending on the political climate.
The law allows for 125 licenses to be issued, divided among growers, manufacturers, retailers, and testers. However, none of the 30 retail outlets authorized under the law can secure a license until at least September 2024, 16 months from now. And it would likely be a few more months after that before the first legal marijuana store opens its doors to customers.
Challenges and Opportunities for the Cannabis Industry
The delay in legal sales means that Delawareans who want to use marijuana will have to rely on the illicit market or grow their own plants at home, which is allowed under the law. This could pose a challenge for the emerging legal industry, which will have to compete with the existing black market and its lower prices.
However, some cannabis advocates and entrepreneurs see the long wait as an opportunity to prepare and plan for a successful and responsible industry. They hope to use the time to educate the public, engage with stakeholders, and create a diverse and equitable market that benefits local communities.
Delaware is also expected to benefit from the tax revenue and job creation that the legal cannabis industry will generate. The law imposes a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales, which will go to a fund for public education, substance abuse prevention, and social equity programs. The industry could also create thousands of new jobs and spur economic development in the state.
Delaware’s Place in the Regional Cannabis Landscape
Delaware is not the only state in the Northeast that has legalized marijuana recently. New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Virginia have also passed laws to allow adult use, creating a competitive and dynamic regional market.
Delaware could benefit from its proximity to these states, especially if it can launch its legal sales before some of its neighbors. However, it could also face some challenges, such as cross-border sales, diversion, and enforcement issues.
Delaware’s long wait for legal marijuana sales could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how the state and the industry use the time. The state has a chance to create a well-regulated and inclusive market that meets the needs and expectations of its residents, but it also has a lot of work to do before it can make that happen.