Delaware House lawmakers have approved a bill to significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program ahead of the launch of adult-use sales that may take another year to implement.
At a meeting of the House Health & Human Development Committee on Wednesday, members took public testimony and then voted to pass the reform legislation from Rep. Ed Osienski (D).
The bill would make a series of changes to Delaware’s medical cannabis program, including removing limitations for patient eligibility based on a specific set of qualifying health conditions. Instead, doctors could issue marijuana recommendations for any condition they see fit.
Osienski, who also sponsored a pair of complementary adult-use legalization and regulation bills that Gov. Jay Carney (D) allowed to become law without his signature last year, said on Wednesday that the medical cannabis legislation will allow the program “to be more successful as the state moves forward with recreational sales, and to make it less expensive and easier for patients to access medical marijuana.”
Here are the key provisions of HB 285:
- The list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana would be removed, allowing doctors to recommend cannabis for any condition that they believe patients could benefit from.
- Patients 65 or older could self-certify their need for medical cannabis—without any need for a recommendation from a healthcare provider.
- It would authorize regulators to issue medical cannabis cards with 2- or 3-year terms, instead of just the current one-year term.
- Patients diagnosed with a terminal illness, meanwhile, could qualify for a card with an “indefinite” expiration date.
- The measure would provide patients with medical marijuana cards from other jurisdictions with the same privileges as registered in-state patients.
Rep. Eric Morrison (D), vice chair of the committee, thanked the sponsor for introducing the bill and said that expanding medical marijuana access “is the right thing to do.”
“I do believe that, in terms of medical cannabis, that should be a decision between the doctor and the patient,” he said. “I can’t imagine who would know what that patient needs and can use and will help them more than the doctor and the patient.”
Olivia Naugle, senior policy analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), provided written testimony in favor of Osienski’s bill for the hearing, stating that it would “provide several important improvements to Delaware’s medical cannabis program that would expand patients’ access to the medicine that they need.”
She pointed out that the removal of the qualifying condition requirement would align the state’s medical cannabis rules with that of any other medication that doctors have discretion to prescribe “off label.”
“Doctors should be given the same deference to their medical judgment with cannabis,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, licenses for recreational marijuana businesses are not set to go out until September, meaning it could take until 2025 before storefronts open.
Last year, after the passage of his two legalization measures, Osienski gave advice to lawmakers in other states who are pushing for marijuana reform.
“The key was just to keep plugging away at it and see what the other states have done and see what works best for your state,” he said in May.
He also advised legislators to sit down with “affected state agencies” like the Departments of Health, Finance and Agriculture.
“We had to sit down through meeting after meeting to try to work out a lot of the issues,” he said.
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It took several years to get the job done, however, as the governor vetoed his earlier legalization bill in 2022, which Osienski said “really killed our progress on that regulation and taxation bill” for that session.
He also said that there was “a lot of pressure from the existing compassion centers that dispense medical products,” as well as “pushback from the patients” who have been dissatisfied with the cannabis availability in dispensaries and “certainly did not want to see them dispensing their products for recreational users when they were still struggling for their medical needs.”
The lawmaker said at the time that he understood those concerns and would be “more than willing to run legislation that will be beneficial to patients and to compassion centers to help generate more products that we’re going to sell to the patients that are in need.”
The new medical cannabis expansion bill, HB 285, doesn’t address product production, but it will nevertheless offer more patients access to the system.
Meanwhile, the Delaware Senate separately approved a resolution last March that urges the state’s congressional representatives to support legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.
In 2022, Carney vetoed a more narrowly tailored bill that would have clarified that medical marijuana patients are not prohibited from buying, possessing or transferring firearms under state law.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.