For almost two years now, medical marijuana patients the state of Delaware have been sitting in limbo waiting on their state to enact medical marijuana dispensary laws passed in May of 2011.
Thankfully, they won't have to wait much longer as Gov. Jack Markell announced last week that lawmakers will establish the rules and implement the program soon.
"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," Markell wrote to State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and State Rep. Helene Keeley, both of whom sponsored the dispensary legislation in 2011. "Therefore, I am writing you to inform you that [the Department of Health and Human Services] will proceed to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for a pilot compassion center to open in Delaware next year."
Henry said the delay was a setback, but a needed one to ensure that state employees implementing the program would be safe from federal prosecution. Apparently the hundreds of employees other states that have allowed dispensaries and not faced prosecution was enough of a reassurance.
"Delaware has been cautious because we wanted to make sure we protected state employees," she told Delaware Online."What happened at the federal level kept us from moving forward as quickly as we wanted," Henry said.
The delay in implementation originally came from Markell's office. At the time, U.S. Attorney General James Cole had issued a memo clarifying that federal law still considered marijuana to be an illegal substance.
Applications for medical marijuana cards resumed in July of last year, but patients have not been able to legally obtain medical marijuana since then because Delaware does not allow for patients to grow their own supply.
Officials with the state Department of Health and Social Services say the a set of proposed regulations could be ready as early as Oct. 1 and in place by January 1, 2014. The state would then have to select a vender to grow the cannabis, likely by may, so that patients could access medicine as early as next summer.
"We applaud Gov. Markell for taking this essential step toward providing safe and legal access to medical marijuana for qualified patients," said Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project in a prepared statement. "We look forward to working with his administration and other stakeholders to ensure patients will no longer need to turn to the illegal market to purchase their legal medicine. Most Americans are fed up with our federal government's counterproductive marijuana laws. Delaware is among a growing number of states where voters and lawmakers are rejecting federal marijuana policy and opting for a more effective approach."