A group representing law enforcement officials across Delaware declared its opposition last week to legislation currently before the state Senate that would legalize marijuana for use by the seriously ill.

A group representing law enforcement officials across Delaware declared its opposition last week to legislation currently before the state Senate that would legalize marijuana for use by the seriously ill.

Speaking at a March 23 Senate committee hearing on behalf of the Delaware Police Chief’s Council, Lewes police Chief Jeffrey Horvath said the bill sets a bad example and is based purely on anecdotal evidence of the drug’s effectiveness as a medical treatment.

“One of my biggest concerns is we’re going to send the wrong message to our children; we’re going to send the message that marijuana is a good thing,” he said.

Senate Bill 17, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, would establish one privately run, nonprofit marijuana dispensary in each of Delaware’s three counties. Those dispensaries, called “Compassionate Care Centers” in the bill, would be authorized to grow marijuana under tightly controlled conditions and sell it to patients.

Doctors would be allowed to prescribe marijuana to patients with serious diseases that cause symptoms like severe chronic pain, sleeplessness and loss of appetite. Marijuana also could be prescribed to alleviate similar symptoms that are side effects of drugs used to treat conditions like cancer and HIV/AIDS.

In order to be prescribed marijuana, patients must show that other treatments have not been effective.

Once a marijuana prescription is written, the patient would receive a state-issued ID that would have to be presented to obtain the drugs.

In addition, the bill allows for “Designated Caregivers,” who would be issued IDs and allowed to pick up and deliver marijuana prescriptions for no more than five patients who aren’t able to do so themselves.

Horvath, formerly chief of the Dover Police Department, said patients who believe they need marijuana to treat their conditions can use legal, synthetic products like Marinol, a pill that isolates marijuana’s active compound — THC.

Other beneficial drugs also come in crude, natural forms, he said, but that’s not how they are used.

“Morphine has proven to be a medically valuable drug, but the [Food and Drug Administration] does not approve the smoking of opium or heroin. They’ve taken the active ingredient and put it in a pill form,” he said. “There may be better avenues to take than smoking marijuana.”

But, several people with various severe conditions who attended the hearing said Marinol and its relatives aren’t as effective as marijuana, and they’re wildly expensive.

Rehoboth resident Trevor Wiberg suffers from a rare connective tissue disorder that causes severe, sustained pain. He said the pain has caused him to contemplate suicide, but marijuana blunts the symptoms, allows him to get out of bed and have some semblance of a normal life.

Wiberg said he’s used Marinol’s generic equivalent, but it doesn’t work as well. It also costs $2,000 per month, paid for by Wiberg’s Medicaid coverage.

“Cannabis has been the single greatest relief. I need far, far less narcotics. It reduces nausea and vomiting better than anything else,” he said. “Generic Marinol, the fact that this exists and is prescribed legally should nullify the claim that marijuana should be illegal.”

Horvath also raised concerns about the distribution structure proposed in SB 17 and, making mention of California’s medical marijuana law, warned of the potential for corruption and misuse.

“[Law enforcement] described California’s law as a disaster. Everyone who wants marijuana goes to a doctor, gets a card and they have marijuana. There is increased crime around all the distribution centers,” he said. “Who will regulate the bona fide relationship with the doctor? Who’s going to check that it’s a bona fide relationship and not a doctor trying to make a buck?”

Horvath also questioned how the dispensaries would get their marijuana seeds and plants. Speaking from his experience as a drug enforcement officer, Horvath said the majority of marijuana that makes it to the market is laced with other dangerous drugs, mostly the hallucinogen PCP.

Sen. Henry defended her legislation and said the Department of Health and Social Services will be instrumental in monitoring the authorized cardholders and the dispensaries.

“We’re going to grow it and we’re going to test it too,” she said.

Email Doug Denison at dougdenison@doverpost.com