Sales rep Grace Shinholt helps a customer at the Columbia Care pharmacy in the Tanger Bayside Outlets in Rehoboth Beach. (Delaware State News / Marc Clery)

DOVER – Given the increased demand for medical marijuana during the COVID-19 pandemic, additional compassion centers will open across the state in the coming months.

Three companies are expected to start operating in Kent, New Castle and Sussex:

• CannaTech Research Inc. – Scheduled to open April through June in Dover and Georgetown.

• EzyCure LLC – Scheduled to open in Felton and Middletown between April and June

• Valor Craft Cannabis Company – Expected to open in New Castle between July and September

“The addition of these providers increases access points to patients as the program continues to grow,” said Paul Hyland, Delaware medical marijuana bureau. “The three new producers will bring a greater variety of products and increase the range.”

Mr Hyland says the pandemic has changed the way patients consume medical marijuana products.

“Delaware patients want to buy more marijuana and want more strains than what is currently on offer,” he said.

“In order to meet the increased demand for marijuana during the COVID-19 era and to meet the expected demand for expansion, OMM needed more production capacity. The opening of new providers was planned for several months, but many processes were disrupted during the pandemic. “

Even if three new providers are to be opened, there are a number of hurdles these facilities must overcome before they can go live. That includes growing the crops for sale, said Zoe Patchell, chairman and president of the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network. And there is quite a bit of demand.

Before the pandemic, with the limited capabilities of three providers and only a handful of locations across the state, there were a number of issues plaguing the program, she said.

A lack of competition has resulted in increased prices for products (which are not covered by insurance, Ms. Patchell noted). Having only three markets in the state created supply problems and long lines and waiting times.

Ultimately, a lot of people returned to cannabis sold outside the auspices of a pharmacy, she said.

“When COVID started, many patients who did not attend the Compassion Centers turned back to the Compassion Centers to ensure the consumer safety protection guaranteed in the regulated market for both the product and patient safety when purchasing,” she said .

In Delaware, she said, a majority of patients who use medical cannabis are over 51 years of age and the state’s requirements for qualifications require someone to have a debilitating disease.

“That puts these medical cannabis patients in a particularly vulnerable population for COVID,” she said.

At the pharmacies in Wilmington, Smyrna and Rehoboth Beach, Columbia Care sees “dozens of new patients every week, new or new to our program,” said Adam Goers, vice president of corporate affairs.

Vape, Flower, and Dab Tab products at the Columbia Care Pharmacy in the Tanger Bayside Outlets in Rehoboth Beach. (Delaware State News / Marc Clery)

“And that’s exciting,” he said.

Mr Goers said counseling services are a key component of the service and “it ensures we have a wide range of products and specific strains so patients know what works for them”.

Also, Mr. Goers attributes the growth to COVID-19 and people are only more aware of the presence (of the cannabis program).

“I’m sure states like Delaware, and every state across the country with a medical cannabis program during COVID, saw those programs as essential service even in the darkest days of the early part of the pandemic,” he said.

“And we take this charge seriously. We are ultimately a healthcare provider. “

There has been a natural increase in participants as more people talk to their doctors and family and learn about medical marijuana, Goers said.

“And I think there is also a real interest on the part of patients, which may have increased during these very difficult times, to try drugs that are natural and that may be better able to treat the conditions they cause with fewer side effects treat I suffer, ”he said.

“I think there are many reasons for the increased number of patients.”

According to the State Medical Marijuana Program Report for Fiscal Year 2020, the three most common debilitating conditions for qualified patients over the past two years were:

• Severe, debilitating pain.

• Post-traumatic stress disorder.

• muscle cramps.

“PTSD is a really tough business that we can help many people find relief on, as well as interventions like chronic pain that opioids just don’t treat well, and so we are encouraged to know that patients across Delaware are getting access to something that is a natural medicine and, for the most part, produces a very low side effect profile compared to the scourge of opioids and abuse and the resulting just pain that causes families and communities, “said Mr. Goers

The increased interest has allowed Columbia Care to invest in additional capital improvements and hire more staff in cultivation and processing facilities as well as workers to work in the pharmacy, Goers said. The company offers nationwide shipments based on COVID logs.

Military veterans often seek “care” as well as people in their daily lives. We certainly see patients learning that cannabis can be a treatment option for them for a variety of conditions, ”said Goers.

First State Compassion has medical marijuana locations in Wilmington and Lewes, while Newark has a fresh cannabis compassion center.

In the last two legislative sessions, the Medical Marijuana Bureau responded to requests to add two new categories of patients:

• Compassionate Use Cards are issued under close medical supervision to continuously assess how marijuana interacts with the patient’s condition and medication. This card type offers the greatest interaction with doctors as the patient must have regular follow-up appointments with the doctor to review the use and effectiveness of medical marijuana.

• CBD Rich Cards can be issued for any qualifying medical condition, but are specifically designed for patients with anxiety. Science has shown that increased THC levels can cause anxiety in patients, but CBD has been shown to have a calming effect on patients. The CBD Rich Card gives patients access to products with more CBD and lower THC levels to help treat a range of conditions.

The OMM has four full-time employees and two part-time employees.

According to the Medical Marijuana Program state database, as of July 2020, 51% of patients lived in New Castle County, 32% in Sussex County, and 17% in Kent County. 65% of the participating physicians were 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 renewed patient registration cards in fiscal 2020, compared to 12,045 in fiscal 19.

Staff writer Craig Anderson can be reached at 741-8296 or canderson@newszap.com.

Brooke Schultz can be reached at 741-8272 or bschultz@newszap.com.