After dragging its heels for nearly 4.5 years, Delaware has finally opened its first medical cannabis dispensary. An indication of demand, a line of patients — some in wheelchairs and others with canes — 100 feet long formed in front of the dispensary in Wilmington hours before it opened for business on June 26. Unfortunately, the dispensary is offering Delaware’s sick little in the form of selection or economic motive to avoid the black market and shop the outlet.
High Prices & Limited Selection
While cannabis consumers in prohibitionist states like Ohio and Texas typically pay between $60 and $100 per quarter ounce of the herb on the black market, eager customers of the First State Compassion Center in Delaware were met with $55 eighths and a very limited selection. This is a harsh reality compared with legalized states that feature an open market, like Colorado, where ounces of top-shelf cannabis sometimes sell for $150 per ounce, or roughly $19 per eighth of an ounce.
According to Paul Hyland, the state’s public health administrator and the program’s supervisor, First State is charging $350 to $400 per ounce, depending on strain. The facility is permitted to grow no more than 150 plants. In its defense, the state does not tax cannabis sales. Said Hyland:
“They had one or two types of plants fail, so the price was somewhat inflated today compared to what we may see in the future.”
First State Compassion claims that prices will be discounted for seniors, low-income patients, and veterans. Unlike some others, Delaware won’t recognize card-carrying patients from other states. While expensive, the dispensary’s prices are about $100 per ounce less costly than neighboring New Jersey, where top-shelf ounces sell for $500 to $550 and are subject to the state’s 7 percent sales tax (despite the fact that other medications are not taxed).
Delaware also recognizes conditions not covered in New Jersey, including PTSD. New Jersey was petitioned to officially recognize PTSD for medical exemption, but it was rejected by Governor Christie, who said he didn’t want to expand the state’s medical cannabis program. In addition, Delaware allows patients to purchase up to three ounces of cannabis over a 14-day period (three times as much as permitted in New Jersey), but does not allow patients to medicate onsite.
Delaware also allows the sale of more than buds, a limitation of New Jersey’s program. Patients of First State Compassion will be able to purchase tinctures, capsules, and a variety of extracts. Those seeking edibles, like brownies or infused gummy bears, however, will leave disappointed. Although not mentioned in the state’s law, marijuana of the edible variety is being avoided by First State. Said Hyland:
“The law is silent on [edibles], but they bring in a whole series of safety issues, and we didn’t feel we were in the position to take them on.”
Approximately 340 patients in Delaware have obtained certification from their doctors to legally purchase and consume medical cannabis. Hyland said that about 100 others are being processed and awaiting their cards, a process that requires 60 days. Some experts believe that this number would be considerably higher if Delaware had opened a dispensary within a reasonable amount of time after passage of its medical law in 2011. Others question how far only 150 plants will go in a state with a population of just shy of one million.
Only a Pilot After All
However, patients in Delaware have little reason to celebrate. An expression of his open defiance toward his own state’s medical cannabis law, Democratic Governor Jack Markell announced that he would prevent the opening of two additional dispensaries, although they are required by Delaware’s law.
Officially, according to the governor, First State is operating under a pilot program for one year. At the end of that period, he will evaluate the program to see if he believes it should expand.