After a lengthy delay, Delaware is moving forward with its medical marijuana program.
Gov. Jack Markell announced his decision in a letter sent to state lawmakers today. Markell legalized medical marijuana in Delaware in 2011, but because of federal restrictions, the program had been on hiatus.
"I have become convinced that proceeding with our program, while making considered modifications to address federal concerns, is the appropriate course for Delaware," Markell said in his letter to lawmakers. Delaware Health and Social Services "will proceed to issue a request for proposal for a pilot compassion center to open in Delaware next year."
Delaware has issued nearly 40 medical marijuana ID cards to patients who have been in limbo, legally allowed to possess small amounts of marijuana for medicinal purposes but lacking any compassion center where they could purchase it.
One of those ID card holders is Todd Kitchen. He's been working with Markell's staff to find a solution to the impasse. "One pilot compassion center is great news when we've had none for a good two years," Kitchen said. "It's great news for the patients of Delaware."
The state health department will develop regulations that will govern operations at a pilot compassion center that is scheduled to open in Delaware next year. The center will grow no more than 150 marijuana plants and stock an inventory of no more than 1,500 ounces of medical marijuana. Those limits are similar to restrictions put in place in Rhode Island and New Mexico.
During the Delaware medical marijuana program's hiatus, the state has been reviewing policies in other states. DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf said, "We believe the way that we are structuring this, it further addresses the concerns outlined in the Cole memo." That memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole warned that the U.S. Department of Justice might prosecute people selling or distributing marijuana, even if they were in compliance with a state's medical marijuana law.
Markell wrote in his letter that his office will continue to monitor activity on the state and federal level. He warned that the state's medical marijuana program could be suspended again if necessary. "I will not hesitate to do so should changed circumstances once again warrant it," he wrote.
Kitchen said he sees this move as evidence that public opinion is turning more in favor of the medical benefits of marijuana. "The tide is slowly changing, and hopefully it just keeps changing."
Landgraf said the new draft regulations for the pilot compassion center should be issued by the start of October. Then, the RFP process will start on Jan. 1, 2014. She said a vendor should selected by late April or early May. It's not clear how soon the center could open after the vendor is picked.
You can read Governor Markell's letter to state lawmakers below:
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