Bills would expand medical marijuana, discourage sugary drinks

DOVER — Legislation approved by the Senate Thursday would expand the state’s medical marijuana program and require restaurants to offer healthy drinks in children’s meals.

The Delaware Code currently identifies the following as acceptable conditions for which a Delawarean can obtain medical marijuana: cancer, a terminal illness, HIV, AIDS, advanced liver damage, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), aggression or anxiety caused by Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, severe migraines and “a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment” that involves nausea, serious pain, seizures, muscle spasms or wasting syndrome.

State law also gives the Department of Health and Social Services the ability to add other ailments to the list at the request of a citizen, although the only conditions for which medical marijuana use has been authorized in this way are pediatric autism and autism with aggressive behavior.

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 24 would enable a Delawarean to apply to the Department of Health and Social Services for a general compassionate use card as long as he or she obtains a doctor’s note testifying the individual has a very serious medical condition, other treatment efforts have been ineffective and there is reason to believe medical marijuana will help.

“The whole purpose of the endeavor was to make it so people who are sick, who are suffering, who find themselves unable to gain relief and what relief they have in many instances being destroyed by crippling therapies and side effects of medications (can) look at this an option,” main sponsor Sen. Anthony Delcollo, a Marshallton Republican, said on the Senate floor.

The bill passed 16-4, with one member abstaining, and now goes to the House.

In response to questions about the level of oversight, Sen. Delcollo told colleagues the department could reevaluate an individual’s medical condition on a regular basis and would be able to see if the individual was doctor-shopping to find a physician who would recommend cannabis.

Overall, the legislation would make the state’s medical marijuana system, which was established in 2011, more flexible, he said.

The measure is a modified version of a proposal filed in March. That bill did not give DHSS oversight power, instead simply stating that anyone could obtain medical marijuana as long as they had a doctor’s certification.

Restaurant beverages

Under House Bill 79, customers would have to “opt in” to unhealthy drinks like soda, with restaurants being mandated to provide as the default option water, milk or juice. The bill would not ban soda and other sugary beverages.

The measure passed 16-5, with all the opposition coming from Republicans. Because it passed the House 28-11 last week, it now goes to Gov. John Carney, who plans to sign it, according to a spokesman.

Supporters said the bill would cause fewer Delawareans to become obese, which often leads to conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

“We need to do more to explain to Americans that sugary drinks prove lethal over time,” Sen. Laura Sturgeon, a Woodbrook Democrat, said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 31.8 percent of Delaware adults were obese as of 2017, while the national average was 39.8 percent in 2015 and 2016. In general, obesity is especially common among minorities.

Per the Center for Science in the Public Interest, several major restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Subway have adopted such policies. California became the first state to require healthy drink option with legislation passed last year.

But dissenters argued the state is stepping into the area of personal responsibility, a field in which they believe government has become too overbearing.

Sen. Colin Bonini, a self-proclaimed “fat guy,” agreed sugar-filled beverages are unhealthy for children but said individuals should be able to choose what they ingest, even if it is harmful. The Dover Republican said he could support an education-based initiative but not the legislation as it is written.

“My concern is where does this stop?” he asked. “What’s the next step, we’re going to outlaw Big Macs? Because I think that’s coming.”
Lawmakers convene Sunday for the final time this year.

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