New Hampshire Poised to Legalize Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Poised to Legalize Medical Marijuana

" I encourage the full legislature to pass this compromise so I can sign this legislation into law," Gov. Hassan said Tuesday.

CONCORD, NH — New Hampshire is poised to become the final New England state to authorize the medical use of marijuana after a compromise was reached Tuesday between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House on a bill already passed by both chambers.

Both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature have already voted to pass House Bill 573, but because of changes made by the Senate, a compromise between the two chambers needed to be reached by Thursday.

In the compromise reached Tuesday, the number of dispensaries allowed in the state was reduced from five to four, medical marijuana patients will not be permitted to grow their own marijuana, and post-traumatic stress disorder was removed from the list of qualifying conditions for the medical marijuana program.

House lawmakers, who approved a version of the medical marijuana bill that included home cultivation of up to three marijuana plants by patients with a veto-proof  286-64 vote in March, agreed to drop the home cultivation provision in exchange for having a medical marijuana oversight commission that will start work as soon as the bill is enacted.

Negotiators from the House gave in to the removal of home cultivation after Senators Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton) and John Reagan (R-Deerfield) said that the bill simply would not become law if it allowed patients to grow their own marijuana.

“We wanted a bill that was going to pass,” Sen. Stiles said.  “‘This is a first step, things can always be added later on.”

The full legislature will now need to vote on the compromise legislation before the bill is sent to the desk of Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan, but that vote is seen merely as a formality due to the Governor’s support of the bill and the overwhelming support the bill has among lawmakers.

Gov. Hassan, who voted in favor of medical marijuana legalization as a state senator in 2009, has said she will sign the amended bill into law now that some of her concerns about the original bill have been addressed.

“Allowing doctors to provide relief to patients through the use of appropriately regulated and dispensed medical marijuana is the compassionate and right policy for the State of New Hampshire,” Gov. Hassan said in a statement.

“I encourage the full legislature to pass this compromise so I can sign this legislation into law,” she added.

As the medical marijuana legislation was working through the state legislature this season, Gov. Hassan expressed that she shares some concerns of law enforcement officials who say that allowing patients to grow their own marijuana could result in diversion of marijuana to the recreational market and make law enforcement’s job more difficult, instead preferring a dispensary-only medical marijuana program in the state.

“The compromise legislation as agreed to by the committee of conference addresses the concerns that I have heard and expressed throughout this session, and provides the level of regulation needed for the use of medical marijuana,” Hassan said Tuesday.

Under the compromised bill, patients diagnosed with certain debilitating medical conditions will  be allowed to possess up to 2 ounces of medical marijuana, which they must purchase from one of four licensed dispensaries that will open in the state.

Dispensaries will be allowed to grow a maximum of 80 mature  marijuana plants, 160 seedlings, while maintaining inventory levels of up to 80 ounces of marijuana or 6 ounces per qualifying patient registered at their dispensaries.

To qualify for medical marijuana, a person must be a New Hampshire resident, would have to have been a patient of the prescribing doctor for at least 90 days, have tried other remedies, and have exhibited certain symptoms.

The compromised bill does not allow patients to grow their own marijuana during an anticipated 18-month to two-year rule-making and licensing process for the dispensaries, which will not open until 2015 at the earliest, and that worries the original bill’s primary sponsor, Representative  (D-Exeter).

After the compromise was announced Tuesday, Rep. Schlachman said she was disappointed that the compromise bill did not include adequate protection for patients during the two years to establish the medical marijuana program.

“We have really opened this bill up so law enforcement in any town that is really against any form of the legalization of therapeutic cannabis is in a position to arrest people simply because they’ve applied for their card and it hasn’t come yet,’’ Rep Schlachman said Tuesday.

New Hampshire State Rep. Donald “Ted” Wright, one of the co-sponsors of House Bill 573, said that while immediate access to medical marijuana for patients, like his wife Cindy, who suffers from breast cancer, is critical, what is most important right now is passing a medical marijuana bill that will be signed by the Governor.

The New Hampshire legislature has twice passed medical marijuana bills, only to see them vetoed by former Governor John Lynch.

Rep. Wright, who was in favor of home cultivation to allow immediate access to medical marijuana for patients, says that without Tuesday’s compromise, lawmakers would be “back at square one, without anything to build from.”If the legislature failed to reach a compromise, it would likely be another two years before the legislature would revisit medical marijuana legalization in New Hampshire.

“We will most likely have a law that will allow the therapeutic use of cannabis, and that’s the bottom line for now,” Rep. Wright said prior to Tuesday’s compromise.

Meanwhile, Rep. Wright says he is working on legislation to be filed in the fall to address home cultivation, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other issues with the law as passed.

The bill will become law immediately upon Governor Hassan’s signature.   The state Department of Health and Human Services must then licence at least two medical marijuana dispensaries within the first 18 months.

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