New Hampshire committee endorses medical marijuana home-grow

Associated Press
Published: 2/26/2019 10:29:45 PM
Modified: 2/26/2019 10:29:46 PM

CONCORD — Amid growing momentum to legalize recreational marijuana, New Hampshire lawmakers also are considering multiple measures to expand the state’s therapeutic cannabis law.

The House Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee on Tuesday endorsed a bill to allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own supply, but said the state should hold off on expanding the list of qualifying conditions. In a unanimous vote, the committee recommended further work on one bill that would make marijuana available to treat opioid addiction and another that would add insomnia, anxiety and Lyme disease to the list.

New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana in 2013, and as of late November, there were 7,120 patients enrolled in the program. The list of qualifying conditions has expanded over the years to nearly 20, but committee members said they were hesitant to add more. In the case of opioid misuse, some said they did not want to appear as if they were endorsing the use of one potentially addictive substance to treat another.

Rep. John Fothergill, a Colebrook Republican and a physician, said there isn’t enough hard evidence that marijuana is effective as an “exit drug” to help people overcome opioid addiction.

“If it was helping them, they wouldn’t be coming to me for help,” he said of his patients.

Others said it didn’t make sense to expand the list when a newly created committee of medical professionals advising the state on the issue will meet for the first time next month.

The cultivation bill originally called for allowing patients or caregivers to have two mature plants and 12 seedlings at a time. An amendment recommended Tuesday would increase that to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings, and it would boost the allowable amount of usable cannabis from 6 oz. to 8 oz.

While the bill would help those who live far from one of the state’s four dispensaries, its real value lies in allowing patients to customize their treatment while significantly cutting the cost, supporters said.

Heather Marie Brown, who uses marijuana to treat PTSD, estimated she could grow all the marijuana she needs for about $150, compared to the $400 per month she would spend at a dispensary. Under the current system, that often puts treatment out of reach, she said.

“Do I take care of my electric bill, or do I make sure I can walk for the next month?” she said.

Rep. Dennis Acton, R-Fremont, said medical marijuana eased the side effects of his cancer treatment after his diagnosis in 1999.

“The $1,600 prescription for Zofran failed, and a $30 bag of ditch weed, I guess you’d call it, worked for me,” he said. “I’m hoping we can fix this today, and get it out to the floor, so it can be part of the program like it should have been originally.”

The full House, meanwhile, is set to vote this week on legalizing recreational marijuana, something 10 other states have done. The list includes the three states bordering New Hampshire, and New York, New Jersey and others are considering it this year. Past efforts have failed in New Hampshire, but Democrats, who added legalization to their party platform last year, now control both the House and Senate.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed bills last year to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and to expand its medical use, but he opposes legalizing recreational use. His spokesman said Tuesday he will carefully review the pending legislation should it reach his desk.

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