Lines blocking the entrance to her home, patients taking up parking spots, and suspected criminal activity are a few of the problems Sharron Cannella said she has with First State Compassion being located in The Vineyards outside Lewes.
First State Compassion opened Sussex County’s first medical cannabis dispensary in the development off Route 9 in May 2017. Having moved there a couple months prior, in February 2017, Canella said there have always been problems, but they’ve been exacerbated since COVID-19 hit.
Cannella continued the list of problems – a line with 150 people in it, patients setting up camp chairs, people sleeping in their cars so they can be the first in line.
“Yeah, it’s a problem,” she said.
In an interview mid-July, Cannella questioned why First State was even allowed to open in The Vineyards. This is not what she’s paying for, she said.
“I don’t have an issue with the patients getting their medicine. The problem I have is 150 people in a line blocking the only entrance to my condo upstairs. It’s just not OK,” said Cannella. “The only day we have peace is Sunday.”
Mark Lally, First State Compassion president and CEO, said First State is doing everything it can to mitigate the impact on business and residential neighbors.
“We appreciate our patients’ and neighbors’ frustrations but do not think it appropriate, or fair, to attribute other petty crime problems to FSC patients,” said Lally, a former state trooper, in an email Aug. 3. “That kind of stigma-setting is not something we embrace.”
Lally said First State strictly follows the COVID-19 CDC guidelines to protect its employees and patients, and with social distancing mandatory, lines are longer. Many businesses are similarly impacted, with lines forming way beyond their entrances, he said.
Lally said the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, a significant increase in patients, and exponential increase in product demand are the reasons for the lines outside the Lewes dispensary.
“We have great empathy for our patients, and I must say that most of them are understanding, courteous, and respectful of our employees and our neighbors,” said Lally.
Lally said First State staff communicate with patients several times a day, reminding them of the importance of being good neighbors. He said First State is working to restart online ordering and looks forward to opening another dispensary in Kent County, which he believes will significantly impact the Lewes patient volume.
“We have all, including our patients and our neighbors, had to adapt to many changes over the past few months,” said Lally. “We will share more updates with the public when we can.”
Delaware Office of Medical Marijuana Director Paul Hyland said the COVID pandemic has created challenges for all businesses and the way they operate.
“We are certainly sympathetic to the concerns of these individuals; unfortunately the Office of Medical Marijuana does not have regulatory authority to address these specific complaints,” said Hyland in an email July 28.
Hyland said his office encourages customers to discuss complaints and concerns directly with the compassion center management. Also, he said, card holders have the option to purchase their product through other vendors, and some offer online ordering and curbside or even home delivery in the beach area.
Hyland said residents should discuss concerns with the property manager, and of course if there are any concerns about illicit drug activity in the area, they are encouraged to contact law enforcement.
Lynn Andrews, Vineyards property manager, said she is working directly with First State to resolve any parking issues and long lines. As for any suspected drug usage, she said, Delaware State Police Troop 7 should be contacted immediately.
In an email Aug. 6, Cannella said the problems have continued, and while many of the customers are legitimate medical patients, she suspects some portion are also drug addicts, users and dealers. She said patients have been curled up behind planters or in storm drains by the lake.
“This is currently my home – not some shopping center I can decide to never return to again,” said Cannella, who declined to be photographed for the story because she has to enter and exit the building with her 4-year-old niece, for whom she provides care. “I am fearful for the safety of my 4-year-old and myself using a picture. I still live here, and the safety component is a big reason why I have been trying to get their location addressed.”