NASHUA, NH — The New Hampshire Senate voted 18-6 Thursday to approve a bill that will make New Hampshire the final state in New England to authorize the medical use of marijuana.
The bill is a Senate-amended version of House Bill 573, which a veto-proof majority of the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 286-64 in favor of in March.
The bill now goes back to the House, which can agree to the changes made by the Senate, or ask to negotiate a compromise, before the bill can be sent to the desk of Gov. Maggie Hassan.
In the version passed by the Senate, two key elements were removed from the House-approved bill. Under the Senate-amended bill, patients will now longer be allowed to grow their own medical marijuana, and PTSD was removed from the list of qualifying conditions.
Qualifying medical conditions, according to the Senate amendment, include: severely debilitating or terminal medical conditions, cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C currently receiving antiviral treatment, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pancreatitis, spinal cord injury or disease, traumatic brain injury, or one or more injuries that significantly interferes with daily activities as documented by the patient’s provider.
Other changes to the bill reduced the number of authorized dispensaries allowed statewide from five to four, added a requirement that patients get written permission from a property owner before using medical marijuana on privately owned land, and eliminated protections for out of state medical marijuana patients traveling with marijuana in New Hampshire.
The changes were made at the request of Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has made it clear she wouldn’t sign a medical marijuana bill with a home-grow provision, citing concerns about the state’s ability to regulate such operations. Hassan prefers a dispensary-only option, similar to Massachusetts’ recently enacted law.
As a state senator in 2009, Hassan voted in favor of a medical marijuana bill that included home cultivation, although the bill was later amended to a dispensary-centric model. That bill passed in the legislature but was vetoed by former Governor John Lynch.
Advocates argue that the removal of the home-growing provision will leave patients with no legal source of marijuana for two or more years while alternative treatment centers are being developed. The House approved version of the bill would have allowed qualifying patients to cultivate up to three mature plants.
“The bill has strong support among state legislators, and we are willing to make any reasonable compromise in order to meet the immediate needs of seriously ill New Hampshire citizens,” said Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “We are confident that legislators can arrive at a solution that recognizes the immediate needs of patients and addresses the governor’s concerns.”
“We are willing to make any reasonable compromise in order to meet the immediate needs of seriously ill New Hampshire citizens,” Simon said, suggesting allowing patients to cultivate their own medicine for the first three years of the program, or until the dispensaries are fully operational.
Rep. Donna Schlachman (D-Exeter), the bill’s primary sponsor, said that allowing both medical marijuana dispensaries and allowing home cultivation by patients and their caregivers are necessary to ensure patient access.
“Right now, our biggest concern is whether we’re passing something that meets the needs of patients immediately who have been waiting a long time for legal access to something that is critically important to their health and well-being, given the medical challenges that they face,” Schlachman said previously.
“I want to emphasize how grateful I am to have a governor who has gone on record in support of the use of therapeutic cannabis. I think that’s critically important,” Schlachman added.
Because the cost of medical marijuana from a dispensary may exceed several hundred dollars per ounce, placing it beyond the financial means of some patients, allowing them to grow their own would give them greater flexibility in their medication options. Other patients may lack the resources, knowledge or time to grow their own medicine, opting instead to purchase their medicine from a dispensary.
A Granite State Poll conducted earlier in February found that 79% of New Hampshire adults support allowing doctors to recommend marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses.
Nineteen jurisdictions in the United States, including all other states in New England, allow the medical use of marijuana. Lawmakers in Illinois and Maryland have also passed medical marijuana legislation this year, bringing the potential total to 21 medical marijuana states plus the District of Columbia once those bills become law.
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