DOVER, Delaware — State officials have entered into a contract with a lobbyist who once worked for U.S. Sen. Tom Carper to operate Delaware's first medical marijuana dispensary.
Officials finalized an initial two-year contract Monday with First State Compassion Center, whose president is Mark Lally, a former state trooper who also served as Carper's Sussex County director.
"FSCC has assembled an experienced team with a high level of competency in the field of medical marijuana," public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay said in letter to several legislators Tuesday.
First State is linked to Massachusetts-based Sigal Consulting, which specializes in developing medical marijuana operations, including the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Rhode Island, which opened last year. Rattay noted that Rhode Island's medical marijuana laws bear "striking similarity" to Delaware's Medical Marijuana Act.
Lally said in a prepared statement that the medical marijuana operation will offer "high quality, affordable medicine" and will include "industry leading protocols for security, patient access, compassionate care, and regulatory compliance."
FSCC plans to operate its medical marijuana "compassion center" at an industrial park on the southern outskirts of Wilmington.
"In addition to being situated in an industrial area that has the appropriate zoning for cultivation and distribution facilities, this location also offers easy access for licensed patients and caregivers," Rattay wrote. "The facility will be within driving distance of a large percentage of Delaware's population, and is set within walking distance of two bus routes."
Officials said the growing operation is set to begin this fall, and that plants should be ready for processing about four months later, with product sales beginning early next year. Rattay said officials will review the operation and patient demand after one year and determine whether there is a need for additional compassion centers.
A law signed by Gov. Jack Markell called for compassion centers in each of Delaware's three counties. But Markell later halted implementation of the medical marijuana program after federal officials indicated that the individuals involved could face civil fines or prosecution. Last year, Markell decided to move forward with a scaled-down pilot program involving just one center, limited to growing no more 150 plants and an onsite inventory of no more than 1,500 ounces.
Meanwhile, a Chancery Court judge is considering Lally's request to dismiss a lawsuit in which former Lewes city councilman A. Judson Bennett claims Lally breached an agreement to help Bennett seek a medical marijuana license.
Bennett said he believes state officials were "foolish" to award the contract while the lawsuit, which he believes he will win, is pending.
"It's very unfortunate that they chose to award the final bid under these circumstances, because it's only going to hurt the state of Delaware and the people who need the drugs," Bennett said.
Jill Fredel, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Services, said officials considered the potential effect of the lawsuit on First State Compassion Center's operations.
"While we can't predict the outcome of litigation, we are satisfied that First State can continue to serve patients even if there is an adverse result in the case," Fredel said.