Delaware: Effort to Legalize Medical Marijuana Renewed
By Newark Post staff
Supporters of legislation legalizing marijuana for medical use are hoping that changes to their measure and a jolt of star power will propel their bill to Gov. Jack Markell's desk.
Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, announced the introduction of her proposed Senate Bill 17, decriminalizing patient use of medical marijuana, during a Tuesday press conference at Legislative Hall. Joining Henry at the event were patient advocates including actor and TV talk show host Montel Williams.
Williams, who uses medical marijuana to help him deal with the debilitating effects of Multiple Sclerosis, has been a national leader in efforts to legalize the substance for medicinal use. Henry said she welcomes his support and believes he will add to the compelling message from Delaware patients.
"Montel Williams is an effective, passionate and articulate spokesman for legalizing medical marijuana," Henry said. "I hope that Montel’s experience and powerful personal testimony will help convince my colleagues that we have developed well-balanced legislation and that we should no longer deny patients a helpful form of treatment."
In his case, Williams says medical marijuana has been more effective than traditional painkillers, including Vicodin and Percocet, at helping him cope with the effects of MS. Depending on his pain level, Williams says he sometimes smokes marijuana or will eat it to help ease his pain.
He said the main barrier to legalizing medical marijuana, which has been shown to offset the ill-effects of chemotherapy for a wide range of diseases including cancer and HIV-AIDS in addition to its role as a painkiller, are attitudes carried over as part of the nation's War on Drugs.
"Scientific research has shown marijuana to be effective, and 15 States and the District of Columbia already have legalized its medical use," Williams said. "Twenty randomized double blind studies -- the gold standard of scientific evidence -- have been done on medical marijuana and 90% showed the drug was either effective in making people feel better or did no harm. That's better than many prescription drugs now in the marketplace. It is time to follow the latest scientific evidence, the personal experience by patients like me and the compassion I believe most people in Delaware feel for some sick people who could use the relief from pain that marijuana can provide."
During his stop at Legislative Hall, Williams met with members in the House and Senate as well as Markell.
Joe Scarborough, a local leader in efforts to legalize medical marijuana, said he thinks that legislators are responding to patients who share their experiences and that and that Williams' appearance will help focus the discussion on patient needs.
"There were a lot of misconceptions about this, but I think that patient contacts with legislators together with the actions in other states has raised the level of discussion and revealed additional information that may have been lost in earlier debate. I am encouraged by the additional co-sponsors who are joining me in supporting patient interests," said Scarborough, who uses medical marijuana to offset the effects of chemotherapy.
Henry's bill has been reworked as was last year's substitute bill to address concerns of lawmakers and law enforcement officials regarding safeguards in the law to prevent diversion.
"We listened to those concerns and I believe we have crafted a bill that addresses those legitimate issues but still makes medical marijuana accessible to patients who genuinely use this as a therapeutic treatment," Henry said.
The proposed Senate Bill 17 would:
Require doctors to provide a detailed, written recommendation that a patient has a specific debilitating medical condition that could be aided by the use of medical marijuana.
Require that patients, or their designated caregivers, have ID cards to access medical marijuana. Police would have the ability to verify those identities with the Department of Health and Social Services.
Create a database of medical marijuana patients and registered caregivers.
Limit to 6 ounces the amount of medical marijuana that a patient could have at any time. Six ounces is less than what federal guidelines shown to be the minimum monthly supply needed for most patients.
Provide medical marijuana through state-regulated, non-profit distribution centers. Those centers would have to meet strict security and recordkeeping standards and would be subject to random state inspections.
In addition the law would not require employers to accommodate medical marijuana use in the workplace nor would it require insurance companies to cover the cost of medical marijuana. It also would prohibit public medical marijuana use and would continue to make driving while under the influence of marijuana illegal.
In addition to support from national advocacy groups, such as the Marijuana Policy Project, Henry is getting local backing from Delawareans for Medical Marijuana. The group was organized for patients by Don Brill, a cancer survivor. The new patient-focused website can be found at, www.delawareansformedicalmarijuana.org where patients can share their experiences and learn about legislative action.
"Early on my nurse suggested that I might want to find a supply in case I needed [marijuana] to help me through chemo. I was lucky, because I wound up not needing medical marijuana in my case. But if I had needed it, I shouldn’t have had to break the law to obtain the marijuana I would have needed to help make it through my treatment," Brill said. "When my wife and I researched this, we found there was no patient advocacy group in the state working for passage of a medical marijuana law, so we decided to start our website. I'm 60 and old enough to tell the truth and that is that people who are sick shouldn't have to break the law to get the treatment they need."
Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington West, agrees and that is why she’s co-sponsoring Henry's bill in the House because she thinks the need for marijuana to help ease suffering is real.
"I have constituents who are suffering tremendous pain and debilitating effects of chemotherapy who could be helped by the use of medical marijuana," Keeley said. "If even half the scientific studies on medical marijuana are accurate, then we should not deny this ray of hope to people who are suffering."