Marijuana in Delaware: How legislative proposals could impact medical and recreational uses in state

DOVER — The first medical marijuana dispensary in downstate Delaware is set to open in two months.

The Sussex Compassion Center, operated by First State Compassion Center, will start providing cannabis to patients in March, according to the Division of Public Health. It will be near Lewes, although the exact location has not yet been revealed to the public.

Meanwhile, the Kent County Compassion Center will open its door in the second half of the year. It will be run by Columbia Care, which has locations in six other states.

Delaware’s only existing marijuana facility, First State Compassion Center’s Wilmington site, opened in June 2015, meaning for the past year and a half, patients had to travel to Wilmington for medical marijuana — a multi-hour journey for most downstate residents.

For now, the location of the Kent site remains a secret known only to the state and Columbia Care.

Gathering in the halls at Legislative Hall are from left, Attorney Adam Windett, Jay Lassiter, Attorney Tom Donovan, Legislative Analyst Maggie Ellinger-Locke and Pastor Aaron Appling with Community Voice Coalition during Cannabis Day on Jan 19. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Although First State’s Wilmington dispensary operates out of one building, Columbia Care will operate separate sites for growing and selling cannabis.

In April, Kent Levy Court approved the lease of the former Monster Racing property at 26 Starlifter Ave. to Compassionate Care Research Institute Inc., but the company failed to land the contract with the state.

The contracts for the Kent and Sussex facilities were announced last fall.

Delaware’s medical marijuana program, created in 2011 by the General Assembly, enables patients to legally possess up to 6 ounces and purchase up to 3 ounces every 14 days.

CoChair of Delaware Can Cannabis Advocacy Network, Zoe Patchell talks with the Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA, Ken Grant during Cannabis Day at Legislative Hall on Jan 19. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Patients must apply to the Department of Health and Social Services, proving they are residents and have a doctor’s note certifying they suffer from an eligible condition. Qualifying conditions include cancer, HIV, ALS, PSTD and uncontrolled seizures.

Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, a Wilmington Democrat who was the lead sponsor of the Medical Marijuana Act, said last week she wants to expand the law to cover more conditions, thus allowing more veterans to use cannabis for medicinal purposes.

According to the Division of Public Health, there are 2,602 active medical marijuana cards held by Delawareans. Cardholders must renew every year, paying a fee of $125 each time. Medical marijuana is not covered by health insurance.

Twenty-eight states in all have legalized medical marijuana.

Recreational

Meanwhile, two years after passing a bill to decriminalize cannabis, Delaware could legalize the drug in the upcoming months: Sen. Henry plans to introduce legislation to that end in March.

Questions still remain about how exactly the bill will look, such as if it will establish a tax, but Sen. Henry said she “knows” there is enough support among lawmakers to legalize cannabis.

She is reading studies and looking at what other states have done in an effort to prevent increased rates of driving while high if marijuana is legalized.

From left, Delaware Can Cannabis Advocacy Network members,Andrew Faureau, John Sybert and Co-Chair Zoe Patchell wait to talk to Legislators during Cannabis Day at Legislative Hall on Jan 19. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

AAA, an automobile lobbying group, is opposed to recreational marijuana out of concerns it will lead to more car accidents and impaired driving.

Unlike with alcohol, there is no easy test to determine if someone is impaired. Traces of marijuana can remain in the body for weeks, meaning someone can fail a drug test despite not smoking in days or longer.

Some studies have shown more drivers have tested positive for marijuana in states that have legalized cannabis but crash rates do not increase.

Gov. John Carney offered few details on whether he supports legalization, although he said at a debate in October he was concerned about its reputation as a gateway drug.

“Delaware decriminalized possession of marijuana, and I supported that move,” the governor, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I also believe that medical marijuana should be available for Delawareans in need. We should continue to wait and see how Delaware’s decriminalization law continues to be implemented, and monitor progress in other states, before taking any additional steps.”

Sen. Henry said she would not file the bill if the governor comes out firmly against it.

Nationally, Americans’ attitudes toward pot have changed dramatically in recent years. According to an October Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans support legalization — up 10 percent from 2011 and 24 percent from 2005.

However, Delaware could be facing circumstances out of its control. The Obama administration opted not to enforce the federal prohibition on marijuana in states that legalized the drug for medicinal or recreational purposes, but President Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has been critical of cannabis usage.

“It’s still a federal offense to deal in marijuana in the United States, and so even though a state doesn’t have that law, the federal government does,” Sen. Sessions said in 2015.

In his confirmation hearing for attorney general earlier this month, he partly ducked questions on how he would handle prosecution in states that have legalized cannabis.

Eight states have legal weed, and Sen. Henry is hoping the First State joins that list. It would be the third state east of the Mississippi River to approve cannabis for recreational purposes.

“People move slow when it comes to drugs,” Sen. Henry said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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