NH House to Vote on Medical Marijuana & Decriminalization Bills TodayBy Scott Gacek March 20, 2013
CONCORD, NH — Two bills, one that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and one that would allow the medical use of marijuana, are scheduled for votes today on the floor of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
House Bill 573, introduced by Rep. Donna Schlachman (D-Exeter), would allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Patients would be able to grow up to three mature marijuana plants in their homes or obtain marijuana through one of five non-profit, state-licensed alternative treatment centers.
Under an amended version of the bill passed by committee earlier this month, registered medical marijuana patients from other states would not be allowed to purchase marijuana at dispensaries, but will still be able to bring up to two ounces of medical marijuana into the state. All states bordering New Hampshire allow medical marijuana.
Gov. Maggie Hassan has expressed support for passing medical marijuana legislation. A similar medical marijuana bill that passed with bipartisan support last session was vetoed by then-governor John Lynch.
The bill was approved earlier this month 14-1 by the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs, who recommended the full House vote to pass the bill.
Prior to the vote, Rep. Patrick Culbert (R-Pelham) made an emotional plea to his colleagues, sharing his experience caring for his wife, Judy, as she slowly died of cancer. He recounted how she found relief from her “agonizing” symptoms the sole time she tried using medical marijuana, but did not use it again because she feared being arrested.
“People like Judy shouldn’t have to die like that,” Rep. Culbert said. “She should have died with dignity and she didn’t.”
If it does pass the House, Senator Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said she believes the measure would ‘‘fare well’’ in the Senate this time around.
Stiles opposed medical marijuana for years, but changed her position after hearing from constituents living with chronic pain that marijuana has given them relief. She voted for the most recent medical marijuana bill in the Senate.
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.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia, including all other New England states, allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians.
The second bill scheduled for a vote Wednesday is House Bill 621, would significantly reduce marijuana possession penalties in New Hampshire.
The bill, if passed, would make minor marijuana offenses a fine-only, non-criminal infraction. Under the bill, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will result in a fine of up to $100.
Last year, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a similar proposal. However, the measure failed to receive Senate support because it was opposed by ex-Gov. John Lynch. The Senate voted without debate to kill the bill, which had passed the House by only one vote.
Elsewhere in New England, marijuana possession has been decriminalized in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Vermont is also considering a marijuana decriminalization bill this year.
Earlier this year, New Hampshire became one of the first states to introduce a bill that would have legalized marijuana for adults. That bill, HB 337,would have entirely removed marijuana from the New Hampshire criminal code as of January 1, 2014.
That bill was was defeated in the House without any debate last week.
by Scott Gacek
A long time marijuana reform activist from Boston, Scott Gacek served on the Board of Directors of MassCann/NORML from 2009-2011. Scott covers New England marijuana law reform for The Daily Chronic when not designing websites for marijuana reform organizations worldwide.