Nearly a decade after it became law, Delaware’s medical marijuana statute continues to evolve. Now, a bill recently introduced could ease physician recommendation requirements for potential medical marijuana patients.
Currently, the physician making the recommendation for a minor must be a pediatric neurologist, pediatric gastroenterologist, pediatric oncologist or pediatric palliative care specialist.
Senate Bill 24, introduced March 6, removes the requirement that only certain specialists may certify the use of medical marijuana if the patient is younger than 18 years old. As is currently the case, under the new bill, minors would only be allowed to use marijuana oil.
The bill would also allow potential patients to qualify for a valid registry identification card for any condition that a physician certifies medical marijuana would likely provide a therapeutic or palliative benefit. Currently, there is a list of specific qualifying debilitating conditions including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV and certain ailments that cause severe pain and nausea.
Medical marijuana was legalized in Delaware in 2011. The state’s first dispensary opened in 2015. Sussex County’s only medical marijuana dispensary, First State Compassion Center, just west of Five Points near Lewes, opened in 2017. More recently, the state’s fourth dispensary opened March 1 in Newark.
According to statistics provided by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Public Health, which oversees the administration of the statewide program, as of March 13, there are 6,801 medical marijuana patients in Delaware – 3,730 in New Castle County; 1,143 in Kent County; and 1,928 in Sussex County. Of the total, 27 are minors.
The new legislation was introduced by Sen. Anthony Delcollo, R-Elsmere. Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, who is credited as the author, said this bill improves upon the current law and helps expand access for those minors in need of cannabis oils. He said it’s got a lot of bipartisan support and he expects it to pass.
This isn’t the first time he has introduced a bill related to medical marijuana. In 2015, he introduced the measure that legalized the use medical marijuana for minors. It was named Rylie’s Law after Rylie Maedler, who is from Rehoboth Beach and was 9 years old at the time. Then in 2016, Lopez introduced another bill allowing a designated caregiver to possess and administer marijuana-based oils to minors without forcing the child to leave school grounds.
Rylie, and mom Janie, continue to advocate for minors to gain access to medical marijuana.
Janie said there are half a dozen families with children in desperate need of access who are ready to testify at legislative hearings. It’s not fair that Rylie qualifies and other children, who are in equally desperate need, don’t, she said.
Sen. Bryan Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, and Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, are among the 20 legislators who have also signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.
Senate Bill 24 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Health and Social Service Committee at 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 10. This bill is the only legislation on the agenda.