Gov. Jack Markell is proposing to revive a plan to open a medical marijuana center in Delaware.
On Thursday, Markell sent a letter about the proposal to State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) and State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South), who sponsored a 2011 bill to allow medical marijuana use in Delaware. Plans for a medical marijuana center were put on hold because of potential conflicts with federal laws.
In the letter, Markell said, "As a result of our review of 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. Therefore, I am writing you to inform you that [the Department of Health and Human Services] will proceed to issue a request for proposal for a pilot compassion center to open in Delaware next year."
Sen. Henry said she was pleased with the governor's plan.
"Although I think we all understood the governor's reasoning in putting the program on hold, it has been a long, frustrating delay – especially for people whose pain and suffering can be eased through the use of medical marijuana," said Henry in a press release.
The governor was concerned that center employees might be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws. Administration officials have been reviewing how best to move ahead with the program while minimizing the risk of federal prosecution.
On Thursday, the governor announced that he was planning to proceed on a limited basis by opening one pilot compassion center instead of the three authorized in the law, and by putting limits on the amount of marijuana that the center can grow and keep in its inventory.
Delaware's center will be limited to a cultivation of no more than 150 marijuana plants and an on-site inventory of no more than 1,500 ounces of marijuana for medical uses, Markell said. The center will have 24-hour video monitoring. The center will be required to verify patient and caregiver identification cards by a phone and/or online verification system before dispensing marijuana and to keep books and records in compliance with generally accepted accounting principles.
Before adding medical conditions for which medical marijuana could be authorized, the Department of Health and Social Services must verify that the medical condition is debilitating and that marijuana is more likely than not to have the potential to be beneficial to treat or alleviate the debilitation associated with the medical condition, Markell said.
The center will also be required to report any missing marijuana within 24 hours and disclose the source of any funds over $5,000.
While setting up a treatment center has been on hold, the state has been issuing identification cards to patients and caregivers who would qualify for medical marijuana under the law.
Page 2 of 2 - "Issuing ID cards has been making slow, steady progress," Henry said. "It's my hope that the Department of Health and Social Services steps up that process to ensure that people will be able to get the treatment they need as soon as possible after the center opens."
The department is to propose the regulations governing selection of a service provider by Oct. 1. Those rules will be finalized by Jan. 1 and the department could name a service provider by early May of 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."