DOVER — With an increased demand for medical marijuana during the COVID-19 pandemic, additional compassion centers are set to open throughout the state in the coming months.
Three companies are anticipated to begin operations in Kent, New Castle and Sussex counties:
• CannaTech Research Inc. - Anticipated to open between April and June in Dover and Georgetown.
• EzyCure LLC - Anticipated to open between April and June in Felton and Middletown
• Valor Craft Cannabis Company - Anticipated to open between July and September in New Castle
“The addition of these vendors increases access points to patients as the program continues to expand,” Delaware Office of Medical Marijuana Paul Hyland said. “The three new growers will bring a greater variety of products and increase the supply.”
Mr. Hyland says the pandemic changed how patients consume medical marijuana products.
“Delaware patients want to purchase marijuana in greater amounts and want more varieties than the current supply allows,” he said.
“To satisfy the increased demand for marijuana during the COVID-19 era and to meet the anticipated demand of expansion, OMM needed more production capacity. Opening new vendors was in the plans for several months, however many processes were disrupted during the pandemic.”
Even as three new providers are slated to open, there’s a number of hurdles those facilities will go through before they become operational, and that includes growing the plants to sell, said Zoe Patchell, board chairwoman and president of Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network. And there is quite the amount of demand.
Prior to the pandemic, with the limited options of three providers and just a handful of sites throughout the state, there were a host of problems that plagued the program, she said.
A lack of competition has led to increased prices for product (which isn’t covered by insurance, Ms. Patchell noted). Having only three markets in the state led to supply issues and long lines and wait times.
It ultimately turned a lot of people back to cannabis sold outside the auspices of a dispensary, she said.
“When COVID began, many patients who were not frequenting the compassion centers turned back to the compassion centers for consumer safety protections guaranteed on the regulated market, for both the product as well as the safety of patient when purchasing,” she said.
In Delaware, she said, a majority of the patients using medical cannabis are over the age of 51 and the state’s requirements for qualifying conditions requires someone be suffering a debilitating illness.
“That puts these medical cannabis patients in a particularly vulnerable demographic for COVID,” she said.
At dispensary sites in Wilmington, Smyrna and Rehoboth Beach, Columbia Care is “seeing dozens of new patients every week that are new to us or new to the program,” said Vice President of Corporate Affairs Adam Goers.
“And that’s exciting,” he said.
Mr. Goers said consultative services are a key component of the service and “It’s ensuring that we have a broad selection of products and specific strains that patients know what work for them.”
Also, Mr. Goers attributes the growth to COVID-19 and people just being more aware of (the cannabis program’s) presence.
“I certainly think that during COVID, states like Delaware, and every state across the country with a medical cannabis program, deemed those programs an essential service even in the darkest days of the early part of the pandemic,” he said.
“And we take that charge seriously. We’re ultimately a health-care provider.”
There’s been a natural increase in participants as more people speak with their physicians and family and learn about medical marijuana, Mr. Goers said.
“And I think that there’s also a genuine interest on the side of patients, which maybe has been increased during these very trying times to try medicines that are natural, and maybe are better able, with lessened side effects, to treat the conditions that they’re suffering,” he said.
“I think there’s many reasons for the increased number of patients.”
According to the state Medical Marijuana Program Fiscal Year 2020 report, the three most common debilitating medical conditions for qualifying patients the past two years were:
• Severe, debilitating pain.
• Post-traumatic stress disorder.
• Muscle spasms.
“PTSD is a really difficult one that we’re able to help a lot of folks find relief from, as well as measures like chronic pain, which is something that’s just not well treated in with opioids and so we’re heartened to know that patients throughout Delaware are getting access to something that is a natural medicine, and a medicine that in most cases produces a very minimal side-effect profile, compared to the scourge of opioids and the abuse and the resulting just pain that it causes families and communities,” Mr. Goers said
Increased interest has allowed for Columbia Care to invest in additional capital improvements and hiring more staff in cultivation and processing sites, as well as people to work in the dispensary, Mr. Goers said. The company offers statewide delivery born out of COVID protocols.
Military veterans frequently seek care “as well as people in their everyday life. Certainly, we are seeing patients that are learning that cannabis can be a treatment option for them for a wide degree of conditions,” Mr. Goers said.
First State Compassion has medical marijuana sites in Wilmington and Lewes, while a Fresh Cannabis compassion center is located in Newark.
Over the past two legislative sessions, the Office of Medical Marijuana has responded to the requirements to add two new categories of patients:
• Compassionate Use Cards are issued under strict physician supervision to continually evaluate how marijuana interacts with the patient’s condition and medications. This card type provides the most interaction with the doctors as the patient is required to have regular follow-up appointments with the doctor to review the use and efficacy of medical marijuana.
• CBD Rich Cards can be issued for any qualifying condition, but were specifically designed for patients with anxiety conditions. Science has shown that increased levels of THC can cause anxiety in patients, but CBD has shown to have a calming effect on patients. With the CBD Rich Card, patients have access to products with more CBD and lower THC levels to address a number of conditions.
The OMM has four full-time employees and two part-time employees.
According to the state Medical Marijuana Program database in July 2020, 51% of patients resided in New Castle County, 32% in Sussex County and 17% in Kent County. Of participating physicians, 65% were based in New Castle County, 21% in Sussex County and 14% in Kent County.
According to the annual report, the OMM issued 16,497 new and renewal patient registration cards in Fiscal Year 2020 compared to 12,045 issued in FY19.