When Delaware Governor John Carney announced that he would allow House Bill 1 and House Bill 2 to become law without his signature, he declared that it was “time to move on” from the debate around recreational marijuana. However, by appointing former Delaware State Trooper Robert Coupe to oversee the rollout of the recreational marijuana industry, Carney has proven that he has done anything but “move on.”
House Bill 2, enacted this past April, establishes and regulates the recreational marijuana industry in Delaware. Portions of the bill were specifically crafted to redress the racist war on drugs that has ravaged countless communities in Delaware. The bill gives those who reside in areas disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs preferential access to the legal marijuana market. The bill also earmarks tax revenue for the Justice Reinvestment Fund, “where it will be used for projects to improve quality of life for communities most impacted by the prohibition of marijuana and ‘war on drugs’ era policies.”
So what does that have to do with Robert Coupe?
Coupe spent nearly 28 years in the Delaware State Police, and has filled a number of administrative roles in the criminal justice system since retiring from the force. Governor Carney believed this professional experience makes Coupe an ideal candidate: “There are few people across our state who are more well-respected, and more committed to serving the people of Delaware, than Rob Coupe,” the governor said in a press release. “He’s exactly the right person to take on this new challenge.”
Unfortunately, the same experience that excites Governor Carney should have disqualified Coupe from consideration for the role of the Marijuana Commissioner. This is not an indictment of Coupe as an individual, but an acknowledgement that Coupe comes from the same criminal justice system whose harms he is tasked with remediating.
If the bill’s intent is to undo some of the harms caused by decades of racist war on drugs-era overpolicing, why is Governor Carney appointing someone with such a criminal justice-heavy background to oversee the bill’s implementation?
The answer: Governor Carney has not, in fact, “moved on.” Carney’s own draconian views on cannabis are well documented. Despite these views, he opted not to veto the bills, realizing that both chambers of the Legislature had the votes to override his veto and politically embarrass him. But, by choosing a commissioner with a decades-long background in law enforcement, Carney gets to save face while giving a slap in the face to everyone who advocated for the bill’s passage, who has been unfairly impacted by the war on drugs, who believes in restorative justice, and who just wants to get high. Carney could have opted for a commissioner who knows the industry, or someone who has been impacted by the War on Drugs to ensure the commission would work to remediate its harms.
Instead, he chose to appoint a cop. That’s not “moving on.”