NH set to become the next medical cannabis state, while MD considers yet another symbolic bill

March 22, 2013 | Mike Liszewski
Yesterday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bill 573, by a voted of 286-64. The bill is expected to pass the Senate, which approved similar legislation last year. In fact, the year's bill will provide patients with greater access options, as they will be able to purchase medical cannabis from a state-regulated dispensary in addition to being able to cultivate their own medicine in an enclosed, locked facility. While last year's bill was vetoed by the previous governor (the veto fell just 2 shorts shy of being overridden),  it is expected that it will again pass the senate followed this time with the signature of newly elected Governor Maggie Hassan.

ASA worked with NH state Representative Donald "Ted" Wright to help with language as the bill made its way through the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, and commends the work of the committee and each of the legislators that voted in favor of the bill that will create true safe access in New Hampshire. Although the bill failed to included protections against housing, employment or education discrimination, HB 573 is a very patient friendly bill, and will provide access to patients living with any of a number of debilitating conditions. Unfortunately, the same can not be said about legislation that is about to pass the Maryland General Assembly.

Late on Wednesday, it was announced that both the Maryland House Health and Government Affairs and Judiciary Committees approved HB 1101, a bill that would in theory create an access model where patients would obtain medicine from hospitals that are approved to conduct research on human subjects.  Earlier this month, Maryland was considering a true safe access, HB 302, which would have been created access through dispensaries and cultivation while providing patients with the strongest privacy protections in the nation. Instead, this system can only be described as a symbolic bill because even the state's own Department of Legislative Services (DLS) analysis said the likelihood that any facility is approximately "nonexistent." In fact, the state's analysis noted that;

"Both the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) previously advised (with regards to a similar bill introduced in the 2012 legislative session) that they did not intend to participate in the program as academic medical centers. JHU and UMMS have confirmed that their intentions have not changed. It is unclear how many, if any, other institutions are eligible (and willing) to participate as
academic medical centers under the bill."

In other words, the state has no idea (or confidence for that matter) that there is a single facility in the state that will provide medical cannabis to patients with a qualifying condition. Even less friendly for patients is the fact physicians will not be able to write recommendations for conditions for which they have not been pre-approved to recommend. In fact, there is not a single debilitating medical condition that a patient in Maryland would be guaranteed access for under this law, bad news for Marylanders with rare conditions.

Worse still, this completely unproven approach is anticipated to be a financial quagmire for the state.  The DLS analysis further states that,

"Because participation in the program is expected to be low (or nonexistent)...DLS advises that the commission is not likely to be able to comply with the bill’s requirement to set its fees at a level sufficient to offset program costs (notwithstanding that some costs, including those associated with the required database, are the responsibility of DHMH rather than the commission) unless it sets its fees at a level that would likely be prohibitively high."

In other words, if by some miracle, some eligible facility stepped forward to become a provider of medical cannabis, the state would be hemorrhaging money on the program. Regardless of whether a facility stepped forward, the state would still bear the expense of promulgating unimplementable regulations. Bottom line, Maryland is about to pass the expensive symbolic medical cannabis law in history.

So there you have it. Neither Maryland nor New Hampshire are set to pass perfect medical cannabis bills in 2013, but the difference between them is night versus day. Or should I say, sickness vs. wellness.
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