The state Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Delaware.
After more than two hours of heart-wrenching testimony and, at times, spirited debate, the bill cleared the Senate floor Thursday in Dover with an 18-to-3 vote and now goes to the House.
Senate Bill 17 would allow Delaware patients suffering from several serious illnesses to receive medical marijuana upon the recommendations of their doctors.
“The primary focus and the goal is to relieve suffering in our state and to be more compassionate,” said Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East), the bill’s primary sponsor.
Henry says the bill, which has been in the making for more than two years, has faced the scrutiny of law enforcement, the medical community and other major stakeholders.
“We’ve tried to make sure we had a bill that was compassionate but also was legal and could stand up in court and I think this bill does that,” she said.
Before the measure passed, Daniel Palomino made his case before the Senate for the legalization of medical marijuana. The Delaware resident has battled two types of cancer, and says the only thing that has helped relieve the agonizing pain has been marijuana.
After the vote he said he felt a different kind of relief, along with a sense of pride and optimism.
“I’m encouraged at the fact that our legislators balanced compassion with the rule of the law,” he said.
But not everybody was happy.
Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover South), one of the three Senators to vote “No,” has a few concerns. He says he can cite “study after study after study” that shows marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs, and that passing this bill sends the message to children that marijuana is OK.
“I have nothing but true compassion to help those people,” Bonini told the crowded Senate chamber, which included a number of people suffering from serious illnesses. “But what we don’t see are the people whose personal lives or family lives have been irrevocably scarred by drug use. And in a lot of those cases that drug use started with the product we’re talking about today.”
Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. already have passed laws that allow the medical use of marijuana to treat patients suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases. Patients in Delaware would be allowed to possess up to six ounces of the drug.
Unlike other states’ medical marijuana laws, the Delaware bill would not allow patients to grow their own cannabis. Instead, the law would set up three dispensaries, one in each county, which would grow and distribute the drug.
“We have a 27-page bill that creates an infrastructure for the sale of marijuana,” Bonini said. “If you don’t think this is Step One to try to legalize this product … I say you’re sorely mistaken.”
Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-Dover), who called Thursday’s debate some of the best he’s been a part of since he’s been a legislator, agreed the bill was not a perfect one. But in the end he decided it was a good bill, not to be confused with the recklessness seen in California with that state’s medical marijuana law.
“It’s important for all Delawareans to know that this bill is not a California bill,” he said. “This bill is tightly drafted, tightly drawn, and I think, has the potential likelihood of being able to keep good control over the use of marijuana for these purposes.”
Henry believes the measure will head to a House committee next week and hit the House floor within two or three weeks. The bill would have to pass the House and be approved by the governor to become law.
“I think everyone was looking at what would happen in the Senate to see what the reaction would be,” Henry said. “And I think because we passed it with more people than we needed, I think that was encouraging and will encourage my colleagues in the House.”
If the bill becomes law, the state Department of Health and Social Services would issue identification cards for patients to help ensure they are not subject to arrest. Caregivers who could pick up marijuana for their patients also would receive ID cards. Each caregiver could assist no more than five patients.
Three Republican senators, Joseph Booth, David Lawson and Colin Bonini voted against the measure.