Delaware Senate Approves Use of Medical Marijuana

OVER — The Delaware Senate approved legalizing marijuana for limited medical purposes Thursday, despite reservations from some supporters who indicated the legislation has flaws.

The bill would decriminalize parts of the state’s drug laws and allow adults with debilitating diseases such as HIV or cancer to get permission from their doctors to purchase marijuana from a state-licensed dispensary.

On an 18-3 vote, the Senate sent Senate Bill 17 to the House, where supporters believe they have enough votes to get the legislation to Gov. Jack Markell’s desk for a signature. Critics said the bill puts Delaware on a path toward legalizing marijuana altogether.

“If you don’t think this is a step in that eventual process, you are sorely mistaken,” said Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover South.

Markell, a Democrat, supports the concept of the bill and changes that have been made to address concerns by doctors and law-enforcement agencies, spokesman Brian Selander said.

“There’s a long road between the concept of providing medical marijuana to people with medical needs like cancer patients and the implementation of that effort,” Selander said.

Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia already have legalized marijuana possession and use for medicinal purposes. Pennsylvania and Maryland lawmakers are currently considering similar legislation.

“This is really out of compassion for people who have been suffering unnecessarily,” said Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, the bill sponsor and a Wilmington Democrat.

After the bill passed, Henry handed out packages of brownies from BJ’s Wholesale Club, making a joke about the recreational use of “pot brownies” as an edible form of ingesting marijuana.

“They were just regular brownies,” Henry said afterward. “It was done in jest and not to take away from the seriousness of the bill.”

Under the bill, individuals with qualifying illnesses would be issued identification cards and be limited to purchasing up to six ounces of marijuana each month. Marijuana could only be purchased from a dispensary, and home cultivation would be prohibited. Qualifying conditions would include cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease or other chronic wasting diseases.

Republican Sens. Joseph Booth, David Lawson and Bonini were the three senators who voted against the legislation.

Since the bill was introduced in January, lawmakers have heard testimony from individuals with debilitating diseases about how marijuana, used illegally, has helped them with pain management or helped them fight nausea caused by toxic cancer and HIV drugs.

“You don’t have witnesses and people whose personal lives, their family lives, have been irrevocably scarred by drug use,” Bonini said. “In lots of those cases, that drug use started with the product we’re talking about today.”

Despite the lopsided vote, some of the senators who voted “yes” expressed concerns about certain provisions in the bill.

Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, said he was concerned the bill could encourage unscrupulous doctors to recommend marijuana for patients in order to make money off additional visits.

Bushweller also expressed opposition to a section of the bill that could allow someone with a written doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana to make an “affirmative defense” in court if they were caught with marijuana before receiving their marijuana purchasing card from the state.

“I think that’s going to lead to a lot of unnecessary court cases, and I don’t think it needs to be in [the bill],” Bushweller said.

Still, Bushweller said, he felt the bill was tightly written to prevent the type of abuses in medical marijuana laws that have been documented in California and other states.

“This is not a California bill,” Bushweller said. “I believe the therapeutic value outweighs concerns about legitimizing it for recreational use.”

Henry said many details of the regulation of marijuana dispensaries will have to be crafted in the rule-making process by the Department of Health and Social Services.

“You don’t see everything written because we’re still evolving,” Henry said.

Department of Safety and Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Liz Olsen said her agency and the Delaware State Police remain neutral on the bill. But law-enforcement officials have worked with lawmakers to ensure police will have access to a database that tracks marijuana sales at the dispensaries or so-called compassion centers, Olsen said. During two hours of debate, the Senate added an amendment sponsored by Sen. Robert Marshall that would let individuals 18 years or older obtain medical marijuana. Marshall had sought to allow children with qualifying illnesses to get access to medical marijuana with permission from their parents, but that amendment was withdrawn because of lack of support. Henry said the American Academy of Pediatrics had written her a letter, warning of the negative health impact on children smoking marijuana.

Henry had another amendment added that would protect doctors who refuse to recommend marijuana use from being sued by their patients.

Markell will be examining the changes “to see how they impact implementation” of the law before considering signing the bill, Selander said.

Support in the Democratic-controlled House is seen as hinging on convincing retired police officers who are representatives that the benefits outweigh the potential problems of having two different marijuana laws in Delaware.

House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf, a retired state police captain and Rehoboth Beach Democrat, said he had not read the Senate bill yet, but he’s convinced marijuana “does have medicinal value.”

Rep. Dennis P. Williams, a former Wilmington police detective, said “times have changed,” and the stigma of marijuana use is fading with recognition of its medical value.

“There’s some people in this building who smoked marijuana,” said Williams, D-Wilmington North. “They just won’t admit it. By Chad Livengood. Source.

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