CONCORD, NH — With a looming Thursday deadline, the pressure is on New Hampshire lawmakers to reach a compromise in recently passed legislation that would allow the Granite State to join the rest of their New England neighbors in allowing the medical use of marijuana.
Both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature have already voted to pass House Bill 573, but because of amendments in the Senate to make the bill more appealing to Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), lawmakers must agree on the final language of the bill before the legislative session ends on Thursday.
Negotiators from both chambers will meet Tuesday to try to resolve their differences and reach a compromise bill that will be sent to the desk of Gov. Hassan for approval.
A veto-proof majority of the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 286-64 in favor of the bill in March, followed by a 18-6 vote in the Senate in May. But the Senate version was watered down, stripped of home cultivation of marijuana by patients, the removal of PTSD as a qualifying condition, reduced number of dispensaries allowed state-wide, and added a requirement that patients get written permission from a property owner before being able to use medical marijuana on privately owned land.
As adopted by the House, the medical marijuana bill would have authorized five state licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, while allowing patients or their caregivers to grow up to three plants at home. The Senate version reduced the number of dispensaries to four state-wide, while stripping patients of the ability to grow their own medicine, even while the awaiting the dispensary program to be implemented.
Advocates fear that under the Senate version of the bill, terminally ill patients would continue to suffer without immediate access to medical marijuana.
“Let the patients grow their three plants,” said Hardy Macia, a former Libertarian candidate for Congress in New Hampshire’s 2nd District, in a video recorded from his hospital bed while undergoing treatment for lymphoma. “It’s not going to affect the market share of marijuana on the market here in New Hampshire because people can get it regardless. Think about the people, think about the patients, ignore the police unions. You really need to do this for the state.”
The Senate changes to the bill were made to alleviate concerns of Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who has said she supports medical marijuana legislation, but shares the fears of law enforcement officials who say that allowing patients to grow their own could result in diversion of marijuana to the recreational market and make law enforcement’s job more difficult.
Hassan even called several lawmakers prior to the vote in May to make clear she wouldn’t sign a medical marijuana bill with a home-grow provision. Hassan prefers a dispensary-only option, similar to Massachusetts’ recently enacted law, despite having voted in favor of a medical marijuana bill that included home cultivation as a state senator in 2009. That bill was eventually vetoed by then-Governor John Lynch.
“Considering the time required for state-regulated dispensaries to be approved and opened, and the reality that many patients are likely to reside quite a distance from them if and when they are operational, NORML opposes removing this provision,” said the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws on their website. “We call upon Governor Hassan and the Senate lawmakers to retain limited home cultivation in HB 573 to ensure that patients have safe and easy access to their medicine.”
NORML is encouraging New Hampshire residents to contact their elected representatives in a final push to get medical marijuana into the hands of patients.
NH Lawmakers Must Reach Medical Marijuana Compromise by Thursday was written by Thomas H. Clarke and appears in full on The Daily Chronic.
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