Medical marijuana has been legal in Delaware since 2011.

Should those 65-plus get marijuana card without doc consent?

Jarek RutzGovernment, Headlines

Medical marijuana has been legal in Delaware since 2011.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Delaware since 2011.

A bill that would allow Delawareans 65 or older to obtain a medical marijuana card without their doctor’s approval got some pushback Wednesday in a legislative hearing.

House Bill 285, sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark would allow the state’s elders to self-certify for the card without a certification from a health-care provider, circumventing the doctor-patient relationship.

Oseinski said those 65 and older are usually automatically approved for a card by their doctor if they believe they will benefit from it, so the bill would save them a trip to the doctor and the costs that come with that.

He also said doctors typically recommend their patients to start small and slow with dosage and then work their way up to make sure their body reacts to it positively.

His move comes 12 to 24 months before the Delaware marijuana industry is expected to be selling legal marijuana.

“Once the recreational market is up and running, basically anybody, if they’re 21 years and older, will be able to basically self-certify because it’s a recreational market,” he said. 

The bill would also:

  • Remove the requirement that a patient must have a debilitating medical condition to qualify for a registry identification card. Instead, health-care providers would determine whether a patient has a diagnosed medical condition that would benefit therapeutically or palliatively from the use of medical marijuana. 
  • Modify the issuance process of medical marijuana registry identification cards, which facilitate the acquisition, delivery, possession or transfer of medical marijuana. 
  • Allow for flexible expiration dates on registry identification cards, enabling 1-, 2- or 3-year expiration dates.

But a Long Neck representative who is also an optometrist had questions in Wednesday’s House Health & Human Development Committee meeting.

“We know that if you compare a 65-year-old to a 35-year-old, 65-year-olds have reduced reaction time, decreased vision, decreased hearing, decreased taste sensation, decreased smell,” said Rep. Jeff Hilovsky, R-Long Neck, “and so to have 65-year-olds… have carte blanche to just get as much as they want and have to get no sense of approval, no medical discussion with their physician. I can’t understand that.”

Osienski reminded Hilovsky that there’s about 17,000 Delawareans who have medical cards. About 5,000 of those are 65 or older, he said. 

He also pointed out that while there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence and research, there has been no federally-funded research on the effects of marijuana.

Hilovsky argued that allowing older folks who sometimes don’t have the best senses of vision and hearing to self certify because it saves them a copay doesn’t help the public. 

It will mean people 65 who may be dealing with 65-year-olds who could be driving under the influence, with no one monitoring how much they get, Hilovsky said.

RELATED: New bill would expand access to medical marijuana cards

He said he’s worried about people waking up early in the morning, smoking or consuming marijuana, and then driving or causing other harm to school children at bus stops or schools. 

“Everybody else is at risk,” Hilovsky said, “and you just admitted that there’s no study done on this, and so now you’ve taken away any supervision whatsoever, and quite frankly, I don’t know that that’s good for Delaware. I just, I don’t understand that at all.”

Marijuana is still a federally-classified schedule 1 drug, which means the government has decided it has a high potential for abuse.

While many argue this is an outdated classification, especially since other schedule 1 drugs include heroin and meth, the current placement of marijuana makes it harder to get adequate funding and research conducted.

There’s currently no accepted medical use in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety practices for use under medical supervision.

Oseinski said Hilovsky’s concerns about balance or driving isn’t fair because the same would hold true for alcohol. Older people can purchase alcohol without consulting anyone, and it’s the job of the consumer to practice responsibility. 

“You’re adding another mind-altering substance… and so awareness versus a study, you can’t even make a comparison,” Hilovsky said.

Anecdotal evidence of the effect of marijuana is not the same as peer-reviewed, vetted research,  he pointed out.

Efforts were unsuccessful Wednesday to contact the Medical Society of Delaware for comment.

Oseinski acknowledged there have been complaints from constituents about the odor, but pointed out that it can be consumed in numerous ways.

Smoking flower releases the most pungent smell, but using a vaporizer pen or consuming edibles do not release a smell, he said.

The bill was released by the committee, with 6 voting “yes” and 5 voting “on its merits” which means they don’t want to vote yes or no, but think it should be debated and voted on by the full House.

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