Darryl Lewis holds a sign outside the First State Compassion Center near Wilmington. (Photo: SUCHAT PEDERSON/THE NEWS JOURNAL)
Delaware's first medical marijuana dispensary opened Friday, four years after the state Legislature legalized its use.
The First State Compassion Center at 37 Germay Drive outside of Wilmington is open from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. today. Users must be registered medical marijuana cardholders with the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.
Bill Coleman, a food sales representative from Harrington, drove more than 60 miles to purchase cannabis legally at the center, Friday morning. In the past, he would buy pot on the street for his chronic pain. Although drug dealers were not particularly dangerous to him, he said, there was a risk of attracting the police's attention.
"The danger was getting stopped by police," Coleman said.
Upon arriving at the new dispensary, Coleman joined a line that stretched out along the front parking lot of the center with more than 50 other marijuana cardholders waiting to make purchases.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies marijuana for any purpose as an illegal Schedule 1 substance, along with heroin and methamphetamine.
Marijuana "has no accepted medical use in the United States," according the 2014 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary from a D.E.A.
The U.S. Congress passed a bill in December directing federal law enforcement to not arrest medical marijuana sellers. House and Senate committees earlier this month passed amendments to spending bills that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Justice from using federal dollars to target medical marijuana operations.
Under state law, and with certification from a doctor, Delawareans can use marijuana to treat symptoms associated with cancer; Alzheimer's disease; post-traumatic stress disorder; and conditions that cause intractable nausea, severe pain or seizures, among other illnesses.
Coleman said that medical marijuana allows him to reduce his use of prescribed narcotic painkillers. Before using cannabis for medical purposes, he was skeptical of its therapeutic utility.
"But I figured out that I can take a lot less narcotics if I just smoke a little bit of pot," Coleman said.
Across the street from the new dispensary is Superior Electric Service Company. The owner, Jane Fitzsimmons, said she's happy that her new neighbor has a secure facility. She knows this because it was her firm that installed new lights in the rooms where marijuana is grown there.
"Our company did the electrical work over there in that building, so we're very familiar with the building and the procedures over there," Fitzsimmons said.
Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill last week that decriminalizes the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana for personal use. The law, which takes effect in six months, eliminates criminal penalties for possession. A violation will be considered a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine and would not become part of a person's criminal record.

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