Will Delaware’s Medical Marijuana Law Go Up In Smoke?

Delaware legalized marijuana for medicinal uses in May 2010. The law provides that Delaware residents with certain specific medical conditions will be able to legally purchase marijuana at “compassion centers” in the State. While the law is now technically in effect, there are no compassion centers to make a purchase. That’s because the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services has not yet issued the needed regulations. The law requires the DHSS to issue the regulations by July 1, 2012.

Even when the regulations are issued, the future of medical marijuana in Delaware will remain hazy.

Marijuana is currently classified as a “Schedule 1” controlled substance under federal law. That’s the same category as heroin and LSD. According to the federal government, there is “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” for a Schedule 1 drug.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, federal agencies have moved to block state efforts to expand the use of medical marijuana. For example, in response to an bill passed by the State of Washington Legislature to legalize and regulate marijuana dispensaries and growers, the U.S. Justice Department warned that growing and distributing marijuana was still against federal law, and said that “state employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability.” The warning caused Washington Governor Christine Gregoire to veto the bill.

Similar actions froze Rhode Island plans, to permit state-regulated marijuana dispensaries. Federal prosecutors warned Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee that the dispensaries could be targets of prosecution.

As Delaware moves forward with its plans to permit use of medical marijuana, a similar federal response seems possible, if not likely. Whether such actions will stomp out Delaware efforts remains to be seen.