For years, talk show host Montel Williams has advocated the legalization of medical marijuana, which he uses to manage the debilitating pain of multiple sclerosis.
On Tuesday, Williams appeared in Legislative Hall to endorse legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in Delaware, while keeping it more closely regulated than other states.
His visit corresponded with the introduction of Senate Bill 17, which would make it legal for patients with a state license and doctor’s prescription to possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Williams urged lawmakers to put aside the decades-long debate about decriminalizing possessing, smoking and distributing marijuana and focus on the documented medical uses of the drug.
“Let’s take the patients off the battlefield,” Williams told the full House. “They’re not the problem. They’re not the criminals.”
Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry’s legislation — named the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act — would allow physicians to issue prescriptions to patients with a state-issued identification card to purchase marijuana from a not-for-profit dispensary in each county.
Marijuana prescriptions would be limited to people 21 years or older who have HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma or a chronic and debilitating disease. The bill would let patients designate a caregiver to pick up their medicine from a dispensary or “compassion center,” which could only dispense three ounces to each patient every 14 days.
The proposed law would not allow marijuana to be grown at the home of a patient or caregiver. Eleven states currently allow home cultivation, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
With cannabis now legal for medicinal purposes in 15 states and the District of Columbia, Williams said, his celebrity lobbying “has been hijacked” by opportunists looking to turn marijuana into a cash crop. Many states, including New Jersey, are wrestling with how to control the sale and distribution of medical marijuana.
Williams, who has become the de facto spokesman for the medical marijuana movement, said he’s trying to backtrack to states like New Jersey where medical marijuana has been legalized to get tighter controls on the drug so that it gets to patients who need it.
In California, Colorado and other states, Williams said, “There is a group of people running some of these dispensaries that really could care less about medical marijuana, they just care about making money.”
Wilmington resident Joe Scarborough, 47, said he’s managed painful HIV treatment for nearly two decades and cancer for four years in part with the help of smoking marijuana illegally. “The side effect that is most risky from marijuana is the criminality around it,” Scarborough said during a news conference with Williams and Henry.
Scarborough noted the proposed law would initially limit each county to one dispensary run by a not-for-profit organization to limit the availability of the drug. “All of those pot stores you hear about in California opening on every corner, that’s not going to happen here,” Scarborough said.
Felons with convictions for violent or drug crimes would be prohibited from dispensing medical marijuana.
Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington West, the main House co-sponsor, said many of her constituents suffering from chronic illnesses or gut-wrenching cancer treatment want to use marijuana legally to ease their pain.
“When you see the pain that these folks are going through every single day, day in and day out, and you know that there’s an opportunity for them to feel just a little bit better, I can’t sit back and not allow us to try,” Keeley said.
In states where it is legal, medical marijuana is prescribed to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy for cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Evidence suggests it can help reduce the harmful effects of glaucoma.
Sen. Liane Sorenson, R-Hockessin, said she’s co-sponsoring the bill because she saw nearly 15 years ago how a constituent from a socially conservative household coped with cancer treatments by smoking marijuana.
“She said she tried all kinds of things and this was the only thing that gave her an appetite, got rid of the nausea,” Sorenson said. “It got stuck in my mind to keep an open mind about the whole thing.”
On Monday, Williams was in Annapolis advocating for passage of a proposed medical marijuana law in Maryland.
The 54-year-old Baltimore native was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. He became a vocal proponent of marijuana legalization after getting busted for possession of drug paraphernalia in Detroit in 2003. On Jan. 4, Williams paid a $484 fine after getting caught with a pipe commonly used to smoke marijuana at a security checkpoint at an airport in Milwaukee.
A resident of New York, Williams said he has three cards authorizing purchase of medical marijuana in California, where he has businesses. Asked by The News Journal how he obtains marijuana outside of California, Williams invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“I don’t want to set myself up to get arrested.”
Williams said medical marijuana is not restricted to a leafy substance that’s smoked. It can be distributed to patients in the form of a liquid or vapor, added to food or taken as a pill.
“Nobody’s talking about the fact that it’s not going to be people absolutely sitting around smoking a joint,” Williams told lawmakers during a news conference. “You just have to start educating the public and let them know this. This is something that is no different than your child’s nebulizer.”
The dispensaries would be licensed and inspected by the state Department of Health and Social Services, and the marijuana sold would likely be subject to taxes, Henry said. “We’re small enough to be able to do it right,” said Henry, D-Wilmington East.
Henry introduced the bill last year but it went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. She’s more optimistic of its passage this year.
“There’s plenty of evidence out there that there’s a medical need under certain circumstances,” said Sen. Bruce Ennis, a Smyrna Democrat and retired state police officer. “From what I’ve seen, it’s a lot better bill than she’s introduced in the past.”
Henry, chair of the Senate Health and Social Services Committee, said her committee will hold a hearing on the medical marijuana legislation when lawmakers return to Dover in mid-March.
Democratic Sen. Michael Katz, a doctor from Centreville, said he wants to see scientific evidence that medical marijuana can be safely used before passing judgment on the bill.
“I’m not ruling it in, not ruling it out,” he said.
– Article from Delaware Online.