Delaware State increasing access to medical marijuana

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Looking to increase availability to underserved areas of Delaware, a Request for Applications was issued by the state’s Medical Marijuana Program that would open four new compassion centers.

Delaware Office of Medical Marijuana Director Paul Hyland said more centers are needed because the program continues to expand.

According to data from the Division of Public Health, as of Sept. 3, there were 10,587 medical marijuana patients in Delaware. That’s roughly a 29 percent increase in patients since Columbia Care opened its Rehoboth dispensary in October 2019, and about a 278 percent increase since First State Compassion opened its Lewes dispensary in May 2017.

At the time of each opening, DPH provided the Cape Gazette with patient number information – there were 8,211 when Columbia Care opened and 2,802 when First State opened.

In an email Sept. 4, Hyland said the most common concern among cardholders is the lack of selection. Counting all the vendors together, he said, Delaware has about 34 different strains of marijuana. However, he continued, some patients desire a more varied selection.

Hyland said another concern is the lines that sometimes form when people are waiting to enter a compassion center. He said adding vendors will disperse some of the patient traffic, reducing wait times elsewhere.

There are currently six compassion centers in Delaware. First State has two, one in Wilmington and one in Lewes; Columbia Care has three, one in all three counties; Fresh Cannabis has one in Newark.

Hyland said areas that would benefit from increased access include the western parts of Sussex and Kent counties. Recognizing there are currently three locations in New Castle County, he said some areas would benefit from additional access in that part of the state also.

Hyland said another objective is to increase product inventory, which means the state will also increase production. He said the number of growers will be decided as the bid review committee examines the bid documents.

Hyland said it’s common for companies to inquire about permitting, but he said permits are issued as needed to prevent overproduction of the medicine.

Hyland said overproduction has been a problem in other states. The RFP references a study from the Marijuana Policy Group that says in 2017, Colorado held 32.6 metric tons of unsold marijuana due to overproduction.

In an email Sept. 9, Zoë Patchell, Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network executive director, said she was glad the RFP process has been opened; however, potentially more than four compassion centers would be needed with the continued growth.

“We would also like the process for compassion centers to be expedited given how dire the current situation is, as patients will still have to wait a long time before these compassion centers are operational,” said Patchell.

Patchell said her network is calling for inventory caps and the requirement for vertical integration of compassion centers to be removed. The cap is arbitrary and was based on fears of the federal government intervening, she said, adding that vertical integration has a hand in the supply chain issue.

Patchell said home cultivation would also significantly help ease the current situation for patients. 

Hyland was hesitant to provide an opening date for the new compassion centers. Construction time varies depending on the project and other factors such as weather he said.

The deadline to respond to the RFP is Wednesday, Oct. 28, with an award announcement two weeks later, Thursday, Nov. 12. The RFP has an estimated project start date of mid-December.

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