Delaware Panel Considers Health, Workplace Safety Issues of Legalized Pot

As Delaware lawmakers consider legalizing recreational marijuana they should take a go-slow approach and address a wide range of health and safety concerns, members of a special task force were told Wednesday.

“Keep it simple. Keep it restricted,” John Yeomans, director of the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, told members of the Adult Use Cannabis Task Force as he outlined a host of law enforcement concerns, including the need to prevent driving under the influence and distribution of marijuana to minors.

The panel also heard from a representative of the state Chamber of Commerce, which wants employers to be immune from liability for pot-related workplace injuries, and to be allowed to adopt zero-tolerance policies if Delaware were to legalize marijuana.

Tim Holly, an attorney who co-chairs the chamber’s employer advocacy and education committee, also said the terms “under the influence” and “impaired” need to be clearly defined by statute before any legalization scheme is implemented. He also said employers should not be required to pay unemployment benefits for workers who are dismissed for marijuana use.

Meanwhile, Kim Robbins, representing the Delaware Pharmacist Society, warned that marijuana can react negatively with several types of prescription medications, including antibiotics, diabetes medicines, and drugs used to control cholesterol levels.

Robbins said that while pharmacists could lose their licenses if they were to distribute marijuana, they perform an important role in educating the public. She suggested that any marijuana dispensary have a pharmacist on site to serve in a consulting role. Robbins also said the state should consider setting up a monitoring system to ensure that marijuana buyers aren’t going from dispensary to dispensary to stockpile large amounts of weed.

Jamie Mack, a policy leader with the Division of Public Health, said that, for food safety reasons, any marijuana edibles should be limited initially to shelf-stable products that do not require refrigeration or heating.

“Given that this is a new market, we feel it’s better to start simple,” he said. “If things go well, you can expand later.”

While eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana, each has done so through referendum, which Delaware does not allow. That leaves the possibility that Delaware could be the first state to implement legalization through the legislative process.

A legalization bill introduced by Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, stalled in the legislature earlier this year, prompting her to introduce a resolution establishing the task force, which she co-chairs.

“I think there’s a lot of fear out there that Delaware’s going to fall off the East Coast if we do this, but I don’t believe that to be true,” she said. “But if we can make individual citizens in the state of Delaware more comfortable with the idea and roll it out maybe more slowly, then that’s something as a task force we have to look at.”

The task force faces a Jan. 31 deadline for reporting to the governor and General Assembly, but Keeley said that deadline may be pushed back to allow for more input by interested parties.

At its next meeting in November, the panel will consider banking, economic and tax issues related to marijuana legalization.