Advocates welcome latest attempt to pass a law, and will lobby for amendments before bill reaches the governor
Concord, NH -- The New Hampshire Senate voted 18-6 to approve HB 573, bringing the state closer to passing the country's next medical marijuana law. The New Hampshire House overwhelmingly approved a similar version of the bill in March by a 286-64 vote, making this the third time in four years that the legislature has passed a medical marijuana law. The previous two bills were vetoed by then-Governor John Lynch, but HB 573 is expected to be signed by Governor Maggie Hassan after the bill is finalized in a House/Senate conference committee.
Earlier this month, under threat of veto by Governor Hassan, the Senate Committee on Health, Education & Human Services amended the legislation. In particular, the governor objected to a provision in the House bill allowing qualified patients to cultivate 3 plants for themselves under strict conditions. Patient cultivation is a cornerstone of most medical marijuana laws in the U.S., used mainly as a means of addressing affordability, but also for consistency in the strains and supply of marijuana.
"After waiting years for legal protections and access to medical marijuana, New Hampshire patients are grateful for the legislature's action and hopeful that this time the Governor will make it a reality," said Mike Liszewski, Policy Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "Patients, however, still intend to urge members of the conference committee to consider the importance of patient cultivation, especially as the program gets up and running over the next 18 months."
In March, Rep. Ted Wright, a Moultonborough Republican, testified during a House hearing that he hoped to be able to grow plants at home for his wife, who is battling cancer. Rep. Wright said that medical bills would make it tough to afford the roughly $400 a month it would cost to purchase marijuana from a dispensary.
The Senate version of HB 573 came with several other amendments, including reducing state-licensed dispensaries, or "alternative treatment centers," from five to four, requiring that patients get written permission from a property owner before being able to use medical marijuana on privately owned land, and eliminating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the list of eligible conditions for marijuana use.
Jessica Gelay with the Drug Policy Alliance in New Mexico recently said that patients with PTSD make up the largest segment of medical marijuana users in New Mexico. Gelay told New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) earlier this month that 42 percent of registered medical marijuana patients in New Mexico suffer from PTSD and use marijuana to relieve its symptoms. NHPR also stated that New Hampshire has approximately 113,000 veterans, a number which is expected to grow along with cases of PTSD, as the draw down in Afghanistan begins next year.
New Hampshire is the only remaining New England state without a medical marijuana law, and will soon be competing with Illinois as the country's next medical marijuana state. Earlier this month, the Illinois legislature passed HB 1, which is currently awaiting Governor Quinn's signature. New Hampshire and Illinois are on course to become the country's 19th and 20th medical marijuana states.
A Granite State Poll sponsored by WMUR-TV conducted in February found that 79 percent of New Hampshire adults support allowing doctors to recommend marijuana for patients with serious illnesses.
Text of Senate version of HB 573: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/amendments/2013-1631S.html
Text of House version of HB 573: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2013/HB0573.html
Granite State Poll: http://www.unh.edu/survey-center/news/pdf/gsp2013_winter_issues021213.pdf