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Advocates urge Gov. Markell to move faster on medical marijuana dispensaries

Delaware is dragging its feet when it comes to setting up its medical marijuana dispensaries according to marijuana advocates.

Medical marijuana has been legal in the First State since 2011, but cardholders haven’t legitimately able to buy the drug. Bids to run Delaware’s first pilot center are currently under review.

Representatives from NORML met with Gov. Jack Markell Tuesday, urging him to license one dispensary in each county as allowed by code.

Right now, Markell and the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) are only letting one company set up what the state is calling a compassion center.

Markell stalled efforts to implement the law after he signed it in 2011, saying he didn’t want to open up state employees to criminal suits from the feds.

He rekindled those efforts in October after a U.S. Justice Department memo said it would take a more hands-off approach to states establishing their own marijuana statutes.

Medical marijuana cardholders met with the governor Tuesday, telling him that doctors are also hesitant to recommend the drug for patients for fear of losing their licenses.

Todd Kitchen also says lawmakers should allow cardholders like him to grow pot in their homes while they wait for the facility to open later this year, adding it may also be a necessity once the center opens.

“ID card holders have been paying for their ID for two years now. It’s just taking too much time. We can get the hardship, homegrown bill written and passed before the compassion centers are even open, so that way, the patients will never have a shortage of medicine when the compassion centers run out, because they’re going to run out,” said Kitchen.

Markell says DHSS will look into educating doctors about the process. As for another dispensary, he says he’s still concerned about drawing the ire of the federal government if the program grows too large.

State health officials are expected to choose a winning dispensary bid next week and then enter into negotiations. They say they hope to open the facility by the fall.

Markell has also indicated he’s modeling Delaware’s system after Rhode Island and New Jersey, which NORML Executive Director Cynthia Ferguson says aren’t the best choices.

“Unfortunately, Delaware is a big “wait and see” state. We had mentioned to him that possibly [New Jersey and Rhode Island] aren’t the most successful medical marijuana programs and maybe it would’ve been better if he had looked further west, say Colorado or Arizona,” said Ferguson.

Markell says he’s open to further dialogue with the groups on the issues they presented, but offered no specific support. The group also discussed decriminalizing small amounts of the drug, something Markell suggests he’s open to considering.