Medical marijuana vote Oct. 28; poll shows 71% support
CONCORD – Patients and their advocates received new hope Tuesday in their effort to pass a medical marijuana bill in New Hampshire. The U.S. attorney for New Hampshire, John Kacavas, announced that his department will not prosecute seriously ill patients who use marijuana to relieve their suffering.
The statement from Kacavas came one day after the Obama administration issued guidelines to federal prosecutors and the DEA directing them not to expend limited resources prosecuting medical marijuana patients in states where doctors may legally recommend the drug. Kacavas went a step further, telling reporters his office would not prosecute patients for possessing marijuana regardless of whether HB 648 passes or fails.
When the bill was debated earlier this year, many legislators expressed concern that a New Hampshire law could not protect patients from federal prosecutions. In light of Kacavas’ announcement, advocates say it is now clear that patients have nothing to fear from federal agents in New Hampshire.
“It’s great to hear that I’m safe from the federal authorities,” said 24-year old Clayton Holton, a Somersworth resident who suffers from muscular dystrophy and lost his ability to walk at age 10. “Unfortunately, if HB 648 doesn’t pass, I’ll still have to live in fear of New Hampshire state and local police.”
A 2008 Mason-Dixon poll showed that 71% of New Hampshire voters support allowing seriously and terminally ill patients access to medical marijuana for personal use if their doctors recommend it.
Matt Simon, executive director for the NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, praised the announcement from Kacavas but pointed out that of the more than 800,000 marijuana arrests that take place each year in the US, 99% are made by state and local law enforcement officers. “If legislators want to see some of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens receive protection from arrest, there is no good reason left for them to vote against HB 648,” he said.
Cancer survivor Dennis Acton, a Fremont resident, also cheered the new development. “It’s great to see the federal government finally acknowledging that states should be free to determine their own policies,” he said. “Now it’s clear that the responsibility of changing this law rests with our own state legislature, and nobody else.”
The bill is scheduled for a final vote in the House and Senate Oct. 28. Two-thirds majorities will be necessary to override Gov. John Lynch’s veto and pass the bill into law. When the bill passed June 24, the House vote was 232-108 (68%) and the Senate vote was 14-10, only two votes short of the override threshold.