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Bill expanding medical marijuana access passes in the Delaware General Assembly

State Rep Ed Osienski (D-Newark) speaks on marijuana legislation in the House Economic Development, Banking, Insurance and Commerce Committee
Sarah Petrowich
Delaware Public Media
State Rep Ed Osienski (D-Newark) speaks on marijuana legislation in the House Economic Development, Banking, Insurance and Commerce Committee on Tuesday in Legislative Hall.

After making it through the Delaware House in January largely on a party-line vote, the Senate officially passes legislation to bolster the medical marijuana industry.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark), removes qualifying conditions to allow doctors to prescribe identification cards as they see fit, extends the expiration date on cards and allows residents over the age of 65 to self certify for medical marijuana use.

The bill also allows those with out-of-state registry cards to use those cards at Delaware compassion centers and allows patients that are terminally ill to be issued an indefinite medical card.

"It will not only help the dispensaries that we already have in our state, but it will help the citizens of Delaware," the bill's prime Senate sponsor State Sen. Kyra Hoffner (D-Dover) said.

Co-sponsor State Sen. Laura Sturgeon (D-Brandywine Hundred) said the bill is necessary to ensure the medical market can keep pace with the developing recreational market in Delaware.

“Without the reforms in this bill, it is clear — and we know this from what’s happened in other states — that the medical marijuana industry would not be able to survive the legalization of cannabis for adult recreational use.”

"Really the elements of this bill are to strengthen the medical marijuana program and to make sure that it endures and to essentially help preserve markets for the medical marijuana program and to provide some incentives for the providers to stay in that business," added State Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover).

As with its debate in the House, the bill faced a party divide on the Senate floor.

"We've already approved recreational marijuana. I think it was a very disastrous decision. I won't be supporting this because I just feel that we've already done the damage — the damage is already there — and I cannot support anything else as far as in the marijuana field," said State Sen. Bryant Richardson (R-Seaford).

Dave Lawson (R-Marydel) also said he could not support the bill due to his feelings that it would simply be "propping up a failing business."

Hoffner refuted Lawson’s statement, saying she sees medical marijuana as an important industry to preserve to help more vulnerable customers as the recreational market enters the state.

“I think it would be helping the citizens who don’t understand the difference between different strains of cannabis for their ailments. I recently sent an 85-year-old woman into a store and told her exactly what to get — not in this state — and when she went in there, the recreational store upsold her, and it wasn't good for her," Hoffner said. "So we need the cannabis industry to help our senior folks or people that are not educated well-enough to understand what plants are good for them."

Paradee agreed with Hoffner, saying the recreational industry can prioritize product potency and not necessarily strains that would help people with their specific ailments, like the medical marijuana industry can.

He mentioned the story of a young Delawarean girl who suffers from seizures, and the family is able to utilize a specific type of cannabis to help manage her condition.

"If you allow the [recreational] market to kind of take over and push out the medical industry, that's not good for folks like that little girl and others who depend on specific strains that may not have a broad commercial appeal in terms of selling a lot of volume, but they serve a very important niche purpose. So it is important that we have a robust medical industry in this state," Paradee said.

State Sen. Eric Buckson (R-Dover South) was the only Republican senator to support the bill, but stressed his feelings that more needs to be done to encourage the federal government to legalize or de-schedule marijuana.

"It's a good bill, we need to do it — don't push too far, right, because we need to maintain the legitimacy of it. We need to distinguish between a card holder and a recreational user," Buckson said. "We've got a medical industry for marijuana that isn't legitimized. It's not recognized."

The bill now heads to Gov. John Carney's desk for signature, and Hoffner said she believes he will support it.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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