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More choices coming for Sussex medical marijuana patients

State has initiated discussions for expansion with Kent and New Castle dispensaries
June 12, 2019

Since May 2017, medical marijuana patients in Sussex County have only had one option for purchasing their medicine in the county – First State Compassion Center, just outside Lewes. That could soon change.

Jennifer Brestel, Department of Health and Social Services spokeswoman, said the state has initiated discussions with the state’s two other vendors – Columbia Care Delaware in Smyrna and Fresh Cannabis in Newark –  regarding opening additional retail locations in the other counties.

“Based on feedback from medical marijuana patients, there is a desire for equal access to the same products in each county. Allowing each vendor to open a retail location in each county provides this access,” said Brestel, in a May 23 email.

Brestel said Columbia Care is in the process of exploring site locations for New Castle and Sussex counties, but no final plans have been reviewed.

Cherilyn Cecchini, Columbia Care spokeswoman, confirmed the company is working with the state on expansion plans in Sussex and New Castle counties, but she declined to identify specific locations.

Columbia Care is looking at several properties to best serve every patient in all three counties of Delaware,” said Cecchini, in an email. Columbia Care opened its Smyrna location in June 2018, and Cecchini said the dispensary has been running well.

While mum on specifics, Cecchini said Columbia Care considers many factors for any expansion plan, including public transport access, cost of buildout and buildout timeline.

“We strive to deliver safe, high-quality products to as many patients as we can in a timely manner,” she said.

Judy McNutt, First State Compassion Center spokeswoman, said the number of patients benefiting from medical marijuana in Delaware is growing rapidly. She said she thinks Sussex County can handle another dispensary, but she said she’s not sure about two more.

McNutt said First State serves over 6,000 patients monthly in its two locations – the company opened the state’s first dispensary in Wilmington in June 2015.

“We have paved the way, and continue to widen the path, for a robust and sustainable Delaware industry that sets the bar as a model for the country,” said McNutt.

With one dispensary already located in Lewes, Brestel said the Office of Medical Marijuana is encouraging vendors to consider locations farther west to accommodate Sussex County’s entire patient population, but she said, the majority of that population is concentrated near the beach area.

As of May 22, Brestel said there were 7,370 medical marijauna patients in Delaware – 3,964 in New Castle County; 1,245 in Kent County; 2,161 in Sussex County. Of the total number of patients, 21 are pediatric.

Possible changes to medical marijuana law coming

In addition to more selection for the local patient population, pending legislation would expand who qualifies as a patient and ease requirements.

Senate Bill 24, introduced March 6, would give doctors the discretion to recommend medical cannabis to any patient the doctor believes will benefit from therapeutic use. This bill would also remove the requirement that only certain specialists may certify the use of medical cannabis for those under 18. This bill has been assigned to the Senate Health & Social Services Committee.

Senate Bill 59, introduced March 21, expands the pool of medical professionals who are eligible to recommend medical cannabis by permitting physician assistants and nurse practitioners to issue recommendations to their patients. This bill has been assigned to the Senate Health & Social Services Committee. An amendment was placed with the bill May 8, restricting certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants to recommend medical marijuana only to adults.

Senate Bill 79, introduced May 7, clarifies that an individual is not disqualified from possessing or purchasing a firearm because the individual is a registered qualifying patient under the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act. This bill has been assigned to the Senate Executive Committee.

House Bill 141, introduced May 6, adds new daily persistent headache and chronic debilitating migraines to the list of chronic or debilitating medical conditions for which an adult may qualify and children under 18 may qualify as a patient for marijuana oil. This bill passed through the House May 16, but has not been assigned to a Senate committee.