Editorial: Waiting for Relief; N.H. Slow to Implement Marijuana Law

Thursday, August 08, 2013
Having concluded that patients afflicted with any one of a host of grave illnesses ought to have legal access to marijuana to alleviate their suffering, the New Hampshire Legislature passed a bill last session that authorizes the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. In so doing, it put in place a rule-making regimen that allows those same patients to suffer for another 18 months. We can only surmise that while compassion wasn’t lacking in the Legislature’s deliberations, a sense of urgency was.

The text of the bill that passed both the House and the Senate with bipartisan support and was signed into law last month by Gov. Maggie Hassan certainly suggests that medical marijuana was handled as gingerly as a toxic substance. This is attested to by the sheer amount of detail contained in the 16 single-spaced pages. Having specified in explicit detail who is eligible to possess medical marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of which diseases, who may assist the patient, who may prescribe marijuana under what circumstances and where and how it can be obtained, the Legislature then gave the Department of Health and Human Services until January 2015 to write the rules under which up to four authorized dispensaries that will grow marijuana and sell it to patients will operate.

The department also has until next July to come up with rules for the registry program that will allow patients and designated caregivers to get an identification card with which they can obtain and possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana.

Surely it couldn’t take that long? Wrong, Michael Holt, rules coordinator for HHS, told the Concord Monitor. “This is a brand new program. If we get them done sooner, that would be a great success, but I suspect it will take us the full year to get this program up and running.” This does not sound to us like a man on a mission, unless the mission is the triumph of bureaucracy.

This is not to make light of the need to effectively regulate a substance that remains illegal in all other circumstances in New Hampshire. But 18 other states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and 12 of them plus the District of Columbia use some form of the dispensary system that New Hampshire’s statute contemplates. So we are not talking about having to draft regulations on a clean slate; much of that painstaking work has been done elsewhere and should be fairly easy to adapt.

We also note that until the House demurred, the Senate and the governor were only too eager to rush through a casino bill during the last session that contained a wholly inadequate regulatory structure and a highly compressed time frame in which to assemble it. It seems to us that nobody is suffering unduly from an inability to gamble sooner rather than later in New Hampshire, as opposed to suffering from the debilitating effects of cancer or multiple sclerosis or AIDS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and having to wait months for promised relief.

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