New push made to expand state’s medical marijuana program

DOVER — Legislation filed last week would expand the state’s medical marijuana program, allowing coverage of more conditions and illnesses.

Senate Bill 24 would authorize a doctor to recommend a patient for any condition “for which the medical use of medical marijuana is likely to provide a therapeutic or palliative benefit.”

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. The only conditions for which medical marijuana use has been authorized in this way are pediatric autism and autism with aggressive behavior.

“This is motivated from what I would call nothing short of a grassroots outcry from people who rely upon this stuff as their medicine, and their reports are basically that there are clear problems and issues that are arising and that the sort of inflexible system we have for petitioning and a very long time to consider something and so on, it basically says we’re going to pick one thing that we use as medication and have that be treated in a totally different way than any other thing that we consider medication in our society,” Sen. Anthony Delcollo, a Marshallton Republican who is the main sponsor, said.

“So, to my mind, we have malpractice laws, standards for practices and licensure for medical professionals that would prescribe medical marijuana, and that to me offers a pretty robust protection against somebody doing something in an untoward way, so why not allow a physician who has an ongoing patient-client relationship, who knows their client, may have been following the patient for dozens of years, say, you know what, let’s try this, see if it works?”

The bill has bipartisan support.

Sen. Delcollo said he has heard DHSS has some concerns and he is set to meet with officials from the department. DHSS declined comment, citing its policy not to discuss active legislation.

Lawmakers have added more conditions to the medical marijuana law since the state’s program was created in 2011, with the changes allowing sufferers of terminal illnesses, seizures and migraines to use the drug. An attempt to add anxiety as a qualifying condition in 2017 failed.

Minors, who have a more limited set of qualifying conditions, would also see greater access to medical cannabis under the bill — in a sense. State law restricts those under 18 to marijuana oil, which contains little or none of the psychoactive component of pot.

Legislators are expected to file a measure that would allow recreational marijuana use in the coming weeks. A similar attempt failed in the House in June.

Sen. Delcollo said he supports legalization but would have to see the specifics of the bill before committing to voting for it.

Gov. John Carney’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether the governor would sign Senate Bill 24.

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