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Editorial: Merciful Verdict in N.H.

Saturday, November 28, 2015
Almost two and a half years have passed since the New Hampshire Legislature decreed that patients with certain kinds of terminal and serious chronic illnesses should be given access to marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Since then, the state has proceeded at a glacial pace to establish the regulatory regime that the legislation contemplated. As a result, it is now projected that it could be spring of next year before any of the four marijuana dispensaries authorized by lawmakers will be up and running.

Meanwhile, people suffering from the “qualifying conditions” specified under the law have been forced to live in a twilight zone. The law recognizes that marijuana could relieve their suffering, but obtaining and possessing it legally have remained tantalizingly out of reach.

Enter Linda Horan, 64, of Alstead, N.H., who was diagnosed in late July with lung cancer that has metastasized to her lymph nodes and brain. The disease is incurable and proceeding rapidly, her physicians say, and they have told her that marijuana could help control anxiety, assist in sleeping, and combat the nausea and wasting that are side effects. In short, she is just the kind of Granite State resident the medical marijuana law was supposed to help.

But the state refused to process her application for a registry identification card that, if approved, would allow her to access medical marijuana in Maine before New Hampshire dispensaries are open. The rationale was that allowing her to do so would undermine the extensive regulatory scheme the state is putting into place to control therapeutic cannabis. Since it is quite possible that she will be dead before New Hampshire opens its own dispensaries, Horan went to court seeking a preliminary injunction requiring the state to process her application.

Last week, Judge Richard McNamara granted Horan legal relief and, one hopes, physical relief from her suffering. He ruled that since the New Hampshire law contains a provision that allows visiting out-of-staters from jurisdictions with medical marijuana laws to possess and use the drug while in the Granite State, legislators contemplated precisely the kind of reciprocal arrangement that Horan was seeking to implement. A day after McNamara’s ruling, the state approved her application for a registry identification card.

There are a few things to note here. One is that the layman often thinks of the law as largely an exercise in arcane hair-splitting that too often yields perverse results. In this case, the judge was able to cut through the legal thicket to reach a conclusion that on the face of it appears both logical and humane.

The second observation is that New Hampshire state government has not embraced wholeheartedly the case for relieving suffering through medical marijuana. Not only was the law passed by the Legislature highly restrictive compared with those of neighboring states, implementation has been unconscionably slow. Granted, the wheels of bureaucracy grind exceeding slow in the best of circumstances, but in this instance, the state has proceeded not only without a sense of urgency but in a spirit much like obstructionism.

The third is that one definition of a good death is that it be consistent with the values a person held dear in life. As Horan, a retired telephone worker who has been described as a long-time labor activist, put it following the ruling: “I’m in tears — tears of joy. Not just for me, but for everyone else who will have the opportunity to get the medicine they need. If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging.” Words to live by.

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