CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — The New Hampshire Legislature approved a bill today to end the threat of arrest for seriously ill patients who use medical marijuana with their doctor's recommendation.
HB 648, which was amended earlier this month by a special legislative committee to address eight specific concerns expressed by Gov. John Lynch, now goes to the governor's desk for approval. The bill as it was originally conceived had already passed both chambers of the Legislature. The new bill passed by 14-10 in the Senate and 232-108 in the House.
"The bill now before Governor Lynch represents a victory for the spirit of compromise in which the needs of seriously ill Granite Staters are met while ensuring our communities have a well-regulated, safe medical marijuana program," said Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster), prime sponsor of the medical marijuana bill. "Now that the bill has been tailored to meet the governor's specific concerns, we hope he will choose to do the right thing and support this much-needed reform."
The key change to the bill involves removing a provision allowing patients or their caregivers to cultivate their own marijuana plants, as patients are permitted to do in all 13 states that currently protect medical marijuana patients from arrest. Instead, the amended bill allows for the creation of up to three nonprofit "compassion centers," which could legally cultivate medical marijuana and dispense it to qualified patients.
The program is modeled after one passed into law in Rhode Island earlier this month. New Hampshire's program is more restrictive, however, because it doesn't allow personal cultivation for patients or caregivers. A detailed explanation of the changes made to New Hampshire's bill at the governor's request is available here: www.mpp.org/states/new-hampshire/hb-648-has-been-amended-to.html.
Earlier this year, New Mexico became the first state to authorize a state-licensed medical marijuana provider. The Obama administration has indicated that it has no objection to such programs. During a June 5 appearance in New Mexico, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reaffirmed that policy, telling reporters, "Medicinal marijuana ... that is something for the states to decide."
"Once again, the Legislature has clearly acknowledged that seriously ill patients should not have to live in fear of being arrested by New Hampshire police," observed Matt Simon, executive director for the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. "At this point, we can only hope that Governor Lynch will share the Legislature’s compassion."
Advocates also announced a new radio ad campaign today intended to encourage Lynch to allow the bill to become law quickly and end the threat of arrest for patients who only want access to a safe, proven effective medicine when their doctor believes it's their best treatment option. The ad, which is available online here: www.mpp.org/states/new-hampshire/new-hampshire-medical.html, features Clayton Holton, a muscular dystrophy patient whose weight dropped to below 80 pounds before he had access to medical marijuana. It will air on several local stations including WTPL, WZID, WMLL and WNTK for the next week beginning Thursday. Advocates also intend to purchase ad time on local TV channels by the week’s end. The first TV ad that will air can be viewed here: www.mpp.org/states/new-hampshire/medical-marijuana-ad.html.