New bill would legalize marijuana in Delaware

A bill legalizing marijuana for Delaware adults is expected to be introduced in January when the General Assembly reconvenes, the Senate majority whip said.

Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, who penned Delaware's medical marijuana bill, said she will propose a bill that would legalize marijuana for Delawareans 21 and older. Henry said the bill has to be sent to the lawyers and she will work on gaining sponsors.

“It’s certainly being considered. It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Henry said Tuesday during a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee. “But it’s time, quite frankly. It’s time to certainly look at it.”

The committee brings together a board of physicians, community members and state officials and makes recommendations to the state on how the law and medical marijuana program can be improved. It meets twice a year.

According to an analysis from the Marijuana Policy Project, a group working on reforming pot laws, taxing marijuana would generate about $21 million, said Henry, the committee chairwoman. That doesn't take into account sales, she added.

"Education is suffering," she said. Revenue from legalizing marijuana could help struggling schools and seniors, among other causes, she said, and close major budget deficits in Delaware.

Henry said that she knows she will face a fight and may not get re-elected, "but I'm going to do it."

Officials moved to decriminalize marijuana use last year. Now possessing a small amount of marijuana for private use in Delaware is paid like a traffic ticket and punishable by only a $100 civil fine.

Legalization legislation will go to a new governor next year. The News Journal has reported that gubernatorial candidate Rep. John Carney, D-Del., said he supports the decriminalization measure but believes the state should wait to see how the law plays out before considering legalization.

State Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover South, who faces Carney in the gubernatorial race, said he would sponsor a bill to legalize marijuana, arguing on the Senate floor that the state’s decriminalization law was nearly that far already.

Medical marijuana cardholder Laura Layfield Sharer said she hopes legalization will close some of the gaps faced by patients seeking cannabis. The product is still too expensive, she said, and it is difficult to get consistent quality.

The 34-year-old has gastroparesis, a painful condition that constricts the stomach muscles and prevents the stomach from emptying properly. She said she had gotten hooked on pain pills to manage the pain, but in recovery found the benefit of medical marijuana.

"I'm right on board," she said of legalization. "We are patiently waiting."

The medical marijuana program is still expanding. In 2017, there will be two more compassion centers open for patients in Kent and Sussex counties. Next year, a third-party compliance facility will begin testing the quality and appropriate doses of medical marijuana grown at all dispensaries, said Paul Hyland, director of Delaware's medical marijuana program.

"We are very excited," Hyland said. "They are essentially going to be an extension of my office."

Patients at the committee meeting also talked of changing the list of qualifying conditions patients must have to be certified for a medical marijuana card in Delaware. Ideas included removing the requirement that says a psychiatrist must sign off on a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis and expanding the conditions list to include substance abuse disorder and anxiety.

Twenty-five states already allow use of marijuana for medical purposes.

On Nov. 8, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada are considering ballot measures to legalize recreational pot for anyone 21 and over. Medical cannabis measures also are on the ballot in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota.


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