N.H. becomes 19th state to legalize medical marijuana as Hassan signs bipartisan bill
New Hampshire became the 19th state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana Tuesday, when Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill that passed the Legislature this year with bipartisan support.
“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, and this legislation ensures that we approach this policy in the right way with measures to prevent abuse,” Hassan said in a statement.
The law takes effect immediately, but it may be well over a year before the program is up and running. Patients must obtain a registry ID card from the state and buy their marijuana only at special nonprofit dispensaries, and administrative rules for those facilities could take up to 18 months to finalize.
Still, Tuesday was a victory for medical marijuana advocates in the Granite State. Similar bills had passed the Legislature in 2009 and 2012, but both times were vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.
Hassan, a Democrat who took office this year, indicated she would support a medical marijuana program — so long as it controlled the legal supply of marijuana by requiring patients to buy it from dispensaries, instead of allowing them to grow it themselves.
“By providing strong regulatory oversight and clear dispensing guidelines, this bill addresses many of the concerns that were expressed throughout the legislative process,” Hassan said Tuesday.
The bill did initially contain a home-grow option, and passed the Democratic-led House on a 286-64 vote in March. The Republican-led Senate, at Hassan’s request, removed that provision and several others before passing the bill in May on a 18-6 vote.
The final version, which did not contain the home-grow option, passed both chambers last month, the Senate on a voice vote and the House on a 284-66 vote.
“This legislation is long overdue and comes as a relief to the many seriously ill patients throughout New Hampshire who will benefit from safe access to medical marijuana,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “Those suffering from debilitating conditions like cancer and multiple sclerosis deserve legal, safe, and reliable access to medical marijuana.”
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But in 1996, California became the first state to legalize the medical use of the drug by ballot proposition, and other states have followed suit.
New Hampshire is the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana, and the last of the six New England states to do so. Medicinal use of cannabis is also legal in the District of Columbia, and Maryland will become the 20th state when its law, which passed this spring, takes effect Oct. 1.
Under New Hampshire’s program, seriously ill or terminal patients can use marijuana to ease their pain and other symptoms.
Cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pancreatitis, a spinal cord injury or disease and traumatic brain injury are all qualifying conditions, as is any injury “that significantly interferes with daily activities as documented by the patient’s provider.”