Relief in sight for chronically ill

Markell revives compassionate care center efforts
August 21, 2013

Medical marijuana could become available in Delaware in the next year.

Gov. Jack Markell is renewing efforts to open a compassionate care facility in the state.  He said only one center will be licensed and the center can cultivate no more than 150 plants or 1,500 ounces of marijuana on site.

“I believe that the path forward we have identified together keeps faith with Delaware’s commitment to patients, while doing all that is practically possible to address the legitimate concerns of the federal government,” Markell said.

Senate Bill 17, signed by Gov. Jack Markell May 13, 2011, decriminalized the use of medical marijuana for patients with chronic illnesses in Delaware.

Markell suspended licensing for dispensaries in February 2012, after a series of letters led Markell to conclude if compassionate care centers open, Delaware distributors, growers and state employees could be acting in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

In an Aug. 15 letter to Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, and Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South, – who sponsored SB 17 – Markell said some states decided to continue allowing qualifying patients to access medical marijuana, despite the federal government’s stance.

“As a result of our review of the policies in Rhode Island, New Jersey and other states, I have become convinced that proceeding with our program, while making considered modifications to address federal concerns, is the appropriate course for Delaware,” Markell wrote.

Delaware Department of Health and Social Services will issue a request for proposal for a pilot compassion care center in the next year, Markell said.

DHSS now issues qualifying identification cards for patients, which must be recommended by their doctors, Markell said.  To qualify, the patient’s condition must be debilitating and DHSS must find that marijuana is likely to alleviate syptoms associated with the condition, he wrote.

In a 2011 memo that preceded Markell’s decision to suspend licensing, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said he was concerned medical marijuana could make its way from a state compassion center to the black market.

In his Aug. 15 letter, Markell said the pilot center would have tight security to prevent medical marijuana from reaching the hands of residents who do not qualify.

He said the center would be subject to 24-hour video surveillance, random inspections and identity verification for patients of the facility.  “The compassion center will also be required to report missing marijuana within 24 hours and disclose the source of any funds over $5,000,” Markell wrote.

Markell also said he would not hesitate to suspend Delaware’s compassionate care program again if it becomes necessary.  “We will continue to monitor developments as we move forward with our program in the interest of Delaware patients,” he wrote.

According to a press release from Henry, DHSS is scheduled to name a service provider by May 2014.

“I hope the department will move in a timely way to finalize the rules and get the process started,” Henry said. “The people who need this treatment should not be denied legal access to a beneficial drug any longer than necessary.”