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N.H. Ready To Vote on Medical Pot

Concord — The New Hampshire Legislature will vote next week on a bill to legalize medical use of marijuana for seriously-ill patients after a speedy compromise emerged yesterday and Governor Maggie Hassan has indicated she will sign it into law.

The agreement occurred after House negotiators gave up on trying to allow patients and caregivers to grow marijuana at home.

In return, Senate negotiators agreed to increase from three to four the number of state-licensed dispensaries that would sell it.

State Rep. Jim MacKay, D-Concord, said supporters of this issue need to be pragmatic enough to accept this compromise given the state has a governor willing to sign something.

“My attitude was we wanted to get something passed,” MacKay told reporters.

“This is a complex subject with many possible options.”

For the first time since taking office, Hassan committed yesterday she would sign this latest version.

“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,” Hassan said in a statement.

Hassan said the revised legislation addressed her concerns about allowing people to grow at home and provides an appropriate level of regulation.

During her campaign last fall and since, Hassan has said she can support a medical marijuana bill.

As a state senator, Hassan voted for two such measures, one that allowed for a home grown option. But Governor Hassan said any bill she would sign needs to be “tightly enforced” and letting patients grow their own would make it harder for law enforcement to do its job.

Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, offered the compromise rewrite that House leaders endorsed after getting assurances that a commission to study and review any needed changes for this new law would be created as soon as possible.

Both Stiles and Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, assured House negotiators that home-grown language was a non-starter with the Senate and with Hassan.

“We took that out because we wanted a bill that was going to pass,” Stiles said.

The bill’s prime author, Stratham Democratic Rep. Donna Schlachman, lamented that the final deal still makes patients liable for criminal prosecution if they possess the drug before the dispensaries are open and they can receive a state-issued registration card.

“It would have been helpful to have. We already know we have patients who are using under the guidance or approval of their medical provider,” Schlachman said.

“It’s a little bit irksome because we know it’s not the patients using who are the problem for law enforcement.”

Dispensaries will take up to two years to regulate, locate and build, Schlachman said, and after they are open it will cost patients $200-to-$400 a month to procure the drug.

“We have people who are fragile medically who will continue to have to worry,” Schlachman said.

There are 19 states plus the District of Columbia that allow patients to receive marijuana for treatment of chronic pain.

Matt Simon, state director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said 14 states let patients grow their own, including Maine and Vermont, while Massachusetts allows it in parts of the state where patients don’t live close enough to a dispensary.

“It’s good that the bill is going to pass, but unfortunately there will be no protection at all for patients who are suffering and need cannabis today,” Simon said in a statement.

Since 2007, the Legislature under Republican and Democratic control have twice passed this law to have New Hampshire join the more than dozen states and the District of Columbia that allow for medical use of marijuana.

But both times then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed the measure.

State officials say they will need to hire two staff to manage this program that will cost $200,000 in the first year alone.

The biggest change to this edition of the bill was a marketing one, dubbing it the use of therapeutic cannabis rather than medical marijuana.