New Hampshire is about to become the 19th state (unless the Illinois governor strikes first) to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) Tuesday announced that she intends to sign a bill after House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise on language that would ease her expressed concerns.
"I have always maintained that 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. 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 in a Tuesday afternoon statement.
"I appreciate the hard work put into this measure by members of the Senate and House, especially lead negotiators Senator Nancy Stiles and Representative Jim MacKay, as well as by scores of advocates dedicated to the well-being of all Granite Staters, and I encourage the full legislature to pass this compromise so I can sign this legislation into law," she added.
Gov. Hassan's announcement was released after House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise on the bill earlier in the day. The full House and Senate are expected to sign off on the committee of conference agreement next week. It will then be transmitted to the governor for her signature.
The compromise means that New Hampshire residents will be able to access medical marijuana, but only more than a year from now, when state patient ID cards are ready and state-regulated dispensaries are open. No patients will be able to grow their own medicine, and private marijuana cultivation for any reason will remain a felony in the Granite State.
"We applaud state lawmakers for coming together to ensure the passage of this important legislation, and we are pleased to hear Gov. Hassan intends to sign it into law," said Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project."This common sense legislation will make New Hampshire a safer and healthier place not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all of us."
House Bill 573, sponsored by State Rep. Donna Schlachman (D-Exeter), will allow residents with certain debilitating illnesses to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Patients will be able to obtain marijuana through one of four non-profit, state-licensed alternative treatment centers.
When first passed by the House, the bill allowed patients to grow up to three mature plants in their homes and to raise a defense in court if they were arrested before patient ID cards became available. But law enforcement raised concerns with the governor, who in turn raised concerns with the Senate, which amended the House version to eliminate patient grows and the interim medical marijuana defense. The Senate version also contained errors that made the program unworkable. House and Senate negotiators earlier Tuesday completed their work on a compromise bill, fixing the fatal flaws, but leaving intact the ban on patient grows.
"It is unfortunate that the measure will not provide immediate protection to those currently seeking relief from medical marijuana, but in time it will ensure seriously ill people will be able to do so without fear of arrest," Simon said. "The law will also provide patients with safe and reliable access to medical marijuana so that they no longer need to resort to the underground market."
Eighteen other states and the District of Columbia now allow medical marijuana. Medical marijuana legislation has also passed the Illinois legislature, and that bill is on the governor's desk.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]