Bipartisan medical marijuana bill advances in NH state legislature

by Savannah Eller | 5/23/19 2:00am

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The bill passed the New Hampshire Senate earlier this month by a 14-10 vote.

Source: Courtesy of Can Stock Photos

While a push to legalize recreational marijuana in New Hampshire might be stalled for the foreseeable future in the state legislature, a bill that would expand options for medical marijuana users in the state is making its way toward the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R). If passed and approved, the bill would allow certified patients to grow a limited number of plants themselves. 

Introduced by Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) and Sen. John Reagan (R-Deerfield), the bipartisan bill would expand the state’s medical marijuana policy to allow patients to grow up to three adult plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings. Patients could also possess up to eight usable ounces of marijuana. 

The bill passed the Senate by a 14-10 vote in early May after a floor amendment was introduced that removed a provision that would allow those certified for home growing to share their marijuana with other patients.

Therapeutic cannabis was legalized in New Hampshire in 2013. Since then, over 7,000 patients have been certified to buy marijuana from a handful of dispensaries, according to Matt Simon, the New England political director and legislative analyst for the New Hampshire Marijuana Policy Project.

Supporters of the bill say it will reduce costs and improve accessibility. Patients must currently travel to one of four alternative treatment centers in the state to buy cannabis, a situation that they say both forces users to travel long distances for care and drives up the price of cannabis. 

“We find that many people simply cannot afford the cost of cannabis at the alternative treatment centers,” said Rep. Dennis Acton (R-Rockingham), one of the bill’s backers. 

Sen. Tom Sherman (D-Rye) introduced the amendment removing the sharing provision. He said that while he supports the use of therapeutic cannabis, he also wants marijuana to be regulated like other controlled substances. Sherman, a practicing gastroenterologist, said he wanted the bill to adhere more strictly to state guidelines for prescription medications, both to prevent misuse and to make the bill more likely to pass. 

“I don’t write a blood pressure medication prescription and say, ‘go ahead and give this to the rest of your family’,” he said. 

Some of the bill’s other supporters, like Simon, disagree with the amendment, arguing that the sharing aspect would have given cannabis users the opportunity to source specific strains necessary for their treatment from other growers instead of from the ATCs. 

The bill will now go before the state House of Representatives again to vote on the amendment. Simon said he believes the bill will gain enough votes to reach the governor and that he expects the votes in favor of the bill to lead by a big margin.

What is less clear is whether Sununu will choose to sign or veto the bill. Although he has proposed to veto a bill legalizing recreational marijuana, Sununu has also approved bills that expanded the state’s therapeutic cannabis program by adding new disorders to the list accepted for therapeutic cannabis use. 

In opposition to the bill are lawmakers such as Sen. Bob Guida (R-Warren), who said he believes the bill would introduce too many plants for reasonable regulation on the part of law enforcement. 

Guida suggested that the legalization of home grown marijuana might increase the incidence of theft. He also said the growing process would be difficult for private citizens to manage without expensive climate controls and high energy consumption. 

“It’s not as simple as just putting [marijuana] in the ground,” he said. 

Instead, he said he advocates for the expansion of ATC facilities and the eventual regulation of marijuana at the pharmacy level — a measure that would most likely take federal legalization, as pharmacies are licensed by the Drug Enforcement Agency, according to the American Pharmacists Association. 

New Hampshire’s three neighboring states — Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine — all currently allow home grow. All three states are also in the process of implementing laws that allow for the recreational sale of marijuana. While the New Hampshire home grow bill might loosen restrictions on therapeutic cannabis, Sherman said that the bill is not related to the current legalization debate. 

“A lot of people get it confused with recreational marijuana, and that’s just completely inappropriate,” he said. “This is a completely different level of monitoring and control.”