Delaware’s move to study pot reflects changing attitude

DOVER — Marijuana has some medical benefits, such as reducing pain for chronic sufferers, studies claim, but many of its exact properties are unknown. Because of federal laws, research on cannabis has been limited. Some states, however, are looking to change that.

Among them is Delaware, which now has an active medical marijuana center and a method for laboratories to study the drug.

In 2011, Delaware passed the Medical Marijuana Act. A series of delays followed, but in June, four years after the initial bill, the state’s first dispensary opened.

First State Compassion Center in Wilmington is Delaware’s only marijuana dispensary. (Delaware State News file photo)

First State Compassion Center in Wilmington is Delaware’s only marijuana dispensary. (Delaware State News file photo)

Lawmakers also passed several pieces of legislation relating to medical marijuana this past session, a sign of changing attitudes toward cannabis.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but four states have legalized the substance, and 23 states have approved medical marijuana.

The drug is considered a Schedule I substance by the federal government, meaning it not only is dangerous and has a high risk of abuse but also possesses no accepted medical use. Despite that official designation, the United States is shifting away from what some have called marijuana prohibition.

Studies and research done by a number of scientists and doctors show that marijuana can reduce pain and related issues for individuals suffering from conditions like AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Groups like the Marijuana Policy Project, which has lobbied in Delaware for bills related to both medical marijuana and decriminalization, have seized on the studies to support changing policies.

The American Medical Association’s position is that it supports “adequate and well-controlled studies of marijuana and related cannabinoids in patients who have serious conditions for which preclinical, anecdotal or controlled evidence suggests possible efficacy and the application of such results to the understanding and treatment of disease.”

In Delaware, lawmakers recently expanded medical coverage to children, allowing the use of marijuana oils, which do not contain enough THC to cause a high.

Senate Bill 90 allows a doctor to provide a medical marijuana card to individuals younger than 18 battling “intractable epilepsy or involuntary muscle contractions that cause slow, repetitive movements or abnormal postures, such as dystonia.”

The act was inspired by 9-year-old Rylie Maedler, of Rehoboth Beach.

“Our entire family, we’ve watched her suffer and it’s not fair for her,” Rylie’s mother, Janie, said in a June statement. “And this will help. The cannabis oil helps for pain and inflammation and the seizures, so it not only is addressing her seizures but it’s addressing a lot of other problems. We want her to have a chance to be a little girl.”

Another bill is intended to allow Delaware labs to study cannabis’ medical properties without fear of arrest.

Senate Bill 138 was written on the urging of Fraunhofer USA, a nonprofit organization focused on research and development. It operates a biotechnology lab in Newark in conjunction with the University of Delaware.

According to the organization’s website, the lab “is a leader in innovative methods of plant-based vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.”

Senate Bill 138, sponsored by Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, allows for facilities meeting FDA standards to conduct studies.

FDA standards are extensive — filling several books, Sen. Sokola said — and require consistent practices designed to allow for proper research and the reproduction of results.

“We really are doing what we should be doing if something has a medical use,” Sen. Sokola said, noting the research can benefit people outside of the state.

The Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biotechnology receives money from the state and organizations like the National Institutes of Health, he said. It currently is working to meet the required guidelines so it can conduct research.

Bill Freedborn, an adviser to Fraunhofer, worked with Sen. Sokola to craft the bill. Both men referenced what they feel is a shift in attitudes in regard to cannabis.

The Medical Marijuana Act received 18 “no” votes between the Senate and House of Representatives in 2011, but subsequent bills have seen more support, and in June, a bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot passed.

Right now, it’s a “wild, wild West out there,” Mr. Freedborn said.

Fraunhofer hopes to change that.

“What we’re trying to do is bring that to the forefront with solid research and solid product development,” he said, emphasizing the focus is on medical, not recreational, usage.

He believes over-the-counter products containing non-psychoactive cannabinoids are a potential big development.

The bill has an economic benefit to Delaware, as well. According to Sen. Sokola, the state would receive some royalties from any products developed by the organization.

Phil Mandel, founder of the Delaware pain management group PAIN LINX and a sufferer of severe spinal stenosis, supports the action Delaware has taken on medical marijuana, although he does not fit the category of people allowed to receive marijuana cards.

“Anything that would help a person except opioids, I’m for it,” he said.


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