The Delaware House of Representatives has 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.
About two weeks after the legislation from Rep. Ed Osienski (D) cleared committee, the full chamber passed it in a 26-10 vote on Thursday, sending the measure to the Senate for consideration.
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.
The legislation would also allow patients over the age of 65 to self-certify for medical cannabis access without the need for a doctor’s recommendation.
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 in a press release on Thursday that the newly House-passed legislation is the product of engagement and feedback from the cannabis patient population.
“Drawing from their insights, we identified numerous ways to improve our medical marijuana program,” he said. “HB 285 recognizes the need to remove outdated restrictions and breaks down the barriers that hinder patients who could truly benefit from improved access to medical marijuana.”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.
“With the full legalization of adult-use recreational cannabis last year, Rep. Osienski, Sen. Trey Paradee and I agree that it is time to update our medical marijuana law and make it easier for the people who rely on these products to get the therapy that they need,” Sen. Kyra Hoffner (D), who is sponsoring the Senate companion version, said.
“These changes will empower patients and their healthcare providers to make decisions about the treatments that best fit their needs and make those treatments more readily accessible for our neighbors with the greatest need,” she said. “I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to send this legislation to the Governor’s desk.”
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 last 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 House-passed 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.