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Delaware, it's time to make medical marijuana legal

  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws giving their residents access to medical marijuana.

    Delaware should become the 16th.

    It is an unfortunate reality that because California's medical marijuana law was so loosely crafted it has been co-opted by members of a Golden State sub-culture as a means to easily obtain marijuana.

    It's also true that Delaware's proposed law is a far better, far tighter piece of legislation than the one on the books in California. States like Vermont and New Mexico have learned from that failure, passing effective medical marijuana laws that our proposed statute emulates. Sponsored by state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and Rep. Helene Keeley, Senate Bill 17 limits the number of dispensaries, requires strict controls on their operation, and specifically defines what medical patients are eligible to get the substance and which doctors may write recommendations for its use.

    Additionally, SB 17 bars growing marijuana at home and prohibits its marketing -- unlike pharmaceuticals, which are collectively promoted via direct-to-consumer advertising costing $2.5 billion annually.

    Critics of medical marijuana are suspicious because they believe that pharmaceuticals such as Marinol provide all the benefits of marijuana without its intoxicating effects. The assumption is that people seeking medical marijuana spurn these alternatives because they're only interested in getting high.

    While some alternatives are available via prescription, marijuana has 85 active components. Substitutes do not have this complete complement of constituent parts and lack the complex relationship that has proven relevant to its therapeutic value. Just as generic drugs sometimes do not work as well as the medications they mimic, so too is the case with marijuana replacements.

    Marijuana has been proven to be effective in treating nausea and seizures and managing chronic pain. Ironically, it's often used to deal with the side effects of drugs administered to treat cancer and HIV/AIDS. At a press conference to unveil Senate Bill 17, numerous Delawareans stepped forth to tell their firsthand accounts of how marijuana was the only substance capable of moderating the debilitating effects of the vital medication they need to save, or in the most tragic cases, simply prolong their lives.

    As if dealing with a devastating illness was not burden enough, Delaware patients who use marijuana for its medical benefits risk arrest and prosecution. They are forced to illegally buy marijuana, often through intermediaries, without knowing its source and hoping it does not contain potentially life-threatening contaminates.

    Much of the resistance to medical marijuana is born out of distorted perceptions. Some of these misgivings are raised by the need to create a method of distribution outside of the channel used to disperse prescription drugs, but this need is because of the federal government's archaic Schedule 1 classification. There would be far less controversy over medical marijuana if doctors could write a prescription that patients could fill at their local pharmacy, but that simple solution is not available to the states because of the overriding federal law.

    Repeated polling shows strong support for making marijuana available for those that have a legitimate medical need for it. Backers include two former U.S. Surgeons General, the American Nurses Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the American Public Health Association, the Presbyterian Church, and the United Methodist Church. A survey I conducted in my own district revealed that about three-quarters of respondents endorsed the concept.

    Medical marijuana is not a panacea. Like prescription drugs, it will only be beneficial for a subset of the patients who take it. However, both scientific studies and thousands of testimonials provide ample evidence it will provide relief to some people who are in dire need of it and who are not being helped by available pharmaceuticals.

    Senate Bill 17 is not a perfect piece of legislation. I have some concerns about the protocol for establishing dispensaries as well as some other aspects of the measure. However, I don't think we should let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I'm co-sponsoring the bill because I think there is an opportunity to make it even better before it's enacted and because, as a cancer survivor who has endured chemotherapy, I have a personal understanding of the value this option could have for some patients.

    Unreasonable fear and false preconceptions should not stand as barriers to denying a treatment that holds the promise of improving the quality-of-life for hundreds of sick Delawareans.

    The First State should become the next state to legalize the legitimate use of medical marijuana.

    Written by
    Feb. 11, 2011



  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Delaware ponders legally prescribed pot

    File Archive
    A new entry has been added to News Coverage Videos About Drugs

    State's lawmakers concerned illegitimate use of medical marijuana could be an issue

    John sits cross-legged on an old recliner in his living room and strikes the flint of his lighter.

    He takes a few puffs of marijuana from his glass water bong. He says it is the only thing that will relieve the pain he endures from muscle spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis, a debilitating neurological disorder that prevents him from standing.

    "I know I could go on marinol, but this is better," said John, stopping mid-sentence to take another hit. "More effective," he added as he exhaled. Marinol is a legal and prescribed form of synthetic marijuana.

    There is growing scientific evidence suggesting valid medical uses of marijuana, leading to its legalization for medical use in 15 states and District of Columbia.

    Delaware lawmakers are currently considering following that lead. But the experiences of other states show that decriminalizing marijuana usage and possession for the ill -- but not for the rest of the population -- can be messy.

    Critics say the law would make it harder for cops to tell whether someone is smoking pot illegally. Some say legalizing marijuana for medical use is the first step toward legalizing the drug for everyone.

    Montana's state House last week voted to repeal its six-year-old medical marijuana law, with legislative leaders claiming they were duped into creating a pathway for full legalization.

    Others fear that head shops will spring up on every street corner.

    In states such as California, Colorado and Michigan, municipalities have implemented a host of zoning regulations to try to limit the number of marijuana dispensaries -- known by some as "pot stores" -- popping up on street corners.

    Across the Delaware River, New Jersey's Democratic-controlled Legislature appears headed toward a showdown with Republican Gov. Chris Christie over how to regulate the growing and distribution of medical marijuana more than a year after its law went on the books.

    Like New Jersey's law, legislation being considered by Delaware lawmakers would prohibit home cultivation and initially limit access to three dispensaries, one in each county. Christie's administration is trying to limit access to medical marijuana in New Jersey to six locations across the 8,721-square-mile state.

    Senate Bill 17, introduced in January, would make Delaware the 16th state to decriminalize sections of the state's marijuana prohibition laws for medical purposes.

    Certification and ID cards
    Patients would need a physician to certify that they would receive therapeutic or palliative benefits from marijuana. Then the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services would issue a medical marijuana user identification card. The state also would issue cards to designated caregivers, who could obtain marijuana for certain patients.

    Ban on home cultivation
    Patients would be prohibited from growing their own marijuana. Initially, they would be able to obtain their marijuana only from three dispensaries, one in each county. The dispensaries would have to be not-for-profit organizations and submit to random inspections by the Department of Health and Social Services.

    Limited amount of marijuana
    Under the proposal, patients would be allowed to possess up to six ounces of medical marijuana, less than the amount the National Institute on Drug Abuse has said is a month's supply for medical use.

    Chad Livengood

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