Plans are in motion to bring a medical marijuana dispensary to Delaware.
SOCIAL MEDIA CHIEF
Delaware will join other states in opening a medical marijuana dispensary by the end of the year, allowing residents with certain medical conditions to buy medical marijuana at a compassionate care clinic that grows and sells the product. Medical marijuana is legal in 20 other states, though state programs nationwide have been delayed due to federal oversight.
Medical marijuana was originally legalized by the legislature in Delaware in 2011, however, like in other states, Delaware’s program faced delays due to a reversal in the opinion of the U.S. Department of Justice, said Paul Hyland, administrator for the Delaware Public Health Treatment Program.
The reversal allowed states to legalize medical marijuana provided it met various “common sense standards” such as not being involved in illegal transactions, international drug cartels or the diversion of the drug from medical purposes to other purposes.
Currently, there are less than 100 patients in the state’s program, but Hyland said he expects that number to increase once the compassionate care center opens.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for them because when you look at how much it costs to produce and keep the center open, there is very little profit,” Hyland said. “I do think that with 100 patients and with 150 plants, they should make it.”
Hyland expects that this amount could sustain approximately 90 patients per month, though he said running a facility for such a small number of patients might be difficult.
Bob Capecchi, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, said while the law already protects patients who use medical marijuana, the compassionate care center provides a way for approved Delaware residents to legally obtain it.
“Since they can’t grow it on their own, the compassion center provides regulated access to medical marijuana in a controlled environment,” Capecchi said.
Capecchi said he thinks the only disadvantage is the singular location of the center. He said he believes the clinic may be to geographically distant for people to reach.
Hyland said the compassion center will be completely privately funded and bidding for the project ended on April 8. A contract will be written with the chosen bidder to ensure the compassion center follows all regulations, Hyland said.
“If the regulations are not met, it gives me the ability to revoke permit,” Hyland said.
Hyland said the compassion center will open 12 weeks after the July 1 planting date.
In Delaware, both a doctor and the state Division of Public Health must approve applicants for a medical marijuana card, Hyland said. He said applicants must also provide a proof of residence within the state.
The doctor’s certification will allow those with a card to purchase medical marijuana without a prescription. Hyland said the department hopes that by requiring a doctor’s authorization, it will be harder for applicants who don’t need the drug to get it.
“We expect for there to be a legitimate doctor-patient relationship,” Hyland said. “If you have Multiple Sclerosis or ALS, that’s a condition your doctor would be aware of, so after talking to your doctor and he would sign the form.”
He said doctors should discuss the science behind medical marijuana, as well as the benefits and deterrents. He said a second review by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) would ensure that the program covers the condition.
Security of the center is a top priority, Hyland said.
“The only way we can combat it is through inspection, surveillance and technology,” Hyland said. “The compassion center will be under constant video surveillance.”
One way to ensure security will include a barcoding system, tracking the plant through its life cycle, Hyland said. The tracking software can also help if there is a product recall.
Capecchi said while Delaware and many other states have robust criminal markets, the risk of medical marijuana being used in criminal activities is low. Those selling medical marijuana on the black market would have to upcharge in order to turn a profit, no longer making them competitive, Capecchi said.
“It’s not like the medical marijuana law is open to anyone who wants it,” Capecchi said. “It’s reserved for the really sick and suffering in the state.”
The economic impact of the center is dependent on the size of the operation, said James Butkiewicz, chair of the economics department.
“If it’s loosely enforced like in California, the impact will be bigger than if it’s more strictly regulated,” Butkiewicz said. “In any case, I don’t believe the economic impact will be that big.”
Butkiewicz said he does think that by making an illegal activity legal, the economic impact will be easier to measure. He said if the marijuana is taxed, it could have a small impact on the state tax revenue.
“By bringing illegal activity into legal activity, some people who were dealing only in cash and not paying taxes will now have to pay taxes as reported income,” Butkiewicz said. “But relative to the size of the state economy, its not going to bring in a lot of money.”
Despite this, Butkiewicz said he considers the project worthwhile if the medical marijuana can help those with various conditions. Butkiewicz said he does not see that many negative externalities to the program.
Capecchi said he has so far seen little to no effect of the program on Delaware residents. He said in addition to the fact those suffering from painful diseases will have access to medical marijuana, studies done in other states have shown other positive effects as well.
“A new study shows in neighborhoods with dispensaries property crime goes down,” Capecchi said. “Most people expected the crime to increase but it actually was the opposite.”
Hyland said he does expect there to be some difficulties during the first year such as managing supply and demand issues the dispensary might face.
“The important thing for me is that the people who need it get it, and we keep it at a price that is reasonable,” Hyland said. “We don’t want to force patients to the illegal market for marijuana, because there you don’t know what you are getting.”