NH Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, But...

May 29, 2013

Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle

The New Hampshire Senate last Thursday approved medical marijuana legislation, but removed language allowing patients to grow their own and protecting them from arrest before state ID cards are issued. The House in March had approved the bill with those provisions, so now it goes before a conference committee to try to reconcile differences.

The Senate version also came with several other amendments, including reducing the number of state-licensed dispensaries, requiring that patients get written permission from a property owner before being able to use medical marijuana on privately owned land, and eliminating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the list of eligible conditions for marijuana use.

Sponsored by Rep. Donna Schlachman (D-Exeter), House Bill 573, would allow state residents with serious illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to obtain and use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Patients would be able to obtain their medicine through one of four non-profit, state-licensed dispensaries.

The Senate changes to the bill were made to assuage the concerns of Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who has said she supports medical marijuana legislation, but who heeded the fears of law enforcement officials that allowing patients to grow their own could result in diversion and make law enforcement's job more difficult.

According to advocates, the Senate version of the bill not only regresses from the House version, but it also contains errant language that would render the program unworkable. The conference committee will seek to address those problems.

"We applaud the senators for adopting this compassionate and much-needed legislation despite its imperfections," said Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "In time, if a few simple problems are fixed, this bill will give patients much-needed relief. The amendments made at the behest of our governor will leave patients out in the cold for at least two years, having to choose between needlessly suffering or turning to the underground market to find their medicine. Patients will continue to make the case to Gov. Hassan for why this bill needs to be substantially improved, and she has said she will continue to listen."

"After waiting years for legal protections and access to medical marijuana, New Hampshire patients are grateful for the legislature's action and hopeful that this time the governor will make it a reality," said Mike Liszewski, policy director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "Patients, however, still intend to urge members of the conference committee to consider the importance of patient cultivation, especially as the program gets up and running over the next 18 months."

Now, it's up to the conference committee and the governor.



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