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April 22. 2014 8:13PM

Homegrown medical marijuana for NH patients not happening any time soon

CONCORD — Supporters of a grow-your-own provision in the state's medical marijuana law were dealt a blow by a Senate committee, which voted 3-1 on Tuesday to send the self-cultivation proposal to interim study, most likely killing the bill for this year.

The vote against the measure, which had passed the Democrat-controlled House by a large margin, protects Gov. Maggie Hassan from a potentially embarrassing veto fight. In addition to a veto threat from the governor, the bill was opposed by the Department of Safety, the New Hampshire State Police and individual police chiefs.

The Health, Education, and Human Services Committee discussed the bill briefly before voting on the motion by Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, to send the bill to interim study.

It would have provided licensed patients with legal access to medical marijuana while the state develops a system of regulated cultivation and distribution through so-called Alternative Treatment Centers.

Sponsored by Rep. Donald "Ted" Wright, R-Tuftonboro, HB 1622 would allow certified patients or their caregivers to possess up to two mature marijuana plants and 12 immature plants or seedlings.

Patients and caregivers would be required to report their cultivation locations to the Department of Health and Human Services, and would lose their ability to cultivate once an alternative treatment center opens within 30 miles of their residence.

The bill passed the House in a 227-73 vote in early March.

If the Senate upholds its committee recommendation, patients will likely have no legal protection if they purchase or use cannabis until alternative treatment centers open, which could take another year and a half or more, said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Supporters of the measure had hoped that an amendment proposed by Wright would help get the bill out of committee to the full Senate. Wright's amendment would have added a sunset provision, repealing the home-grow option when the fourth alternative treatment center opened.

Senators voted 3-1 against the amendment, with Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, the lone dissenter. Sens. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, and Molly Kelly, D-Keene, joined Gilmour in the majority.

"Passing HB 1622 was the only way to make New Hampshire's medical marijuana law workable for patients in the here and now," said Simon. "Sadly, Gov. Hassan and a number of senators are still putting the opinions of a few police chiefs ahead of the needs of seriously ill patients."

Patients in Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts can legally grow their own cannabis.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemmingway, a supporter of self-cultivation by patients, was on hand for the committee vote.

"This is an important issue," he said. "The majority of voters in New Hampshire support it, so I'm disappointed. Gov. Hassan is allowing patients to suffer based purely on politics."

Hassan's spokeman, William Hinkle, said the governor continues to share the concerns of law enforcement about the state's ability to effectively regulate a home-grow option. "She believes that the dispensary approach is the right way to allow for the use of medical marijuana with proper oversight measures to prevent abuse," he said.

Reagan suggested that the Department of Health and Human Services expedite the distribution of state-issued ID cards to certified patients.

"We still have all these people who are very sick and they are worried about being arrested," he said. "We would like Health and Human Services to proceed to give these people in extreme cases some protection from arrest because they are out there on the street trying to buy this stuff because they can't get it legally."

Gilmour agreed, saying, "We should send the message that no delay in issuing the cards will be tolerated."dsolomon@unionleader.com


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