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March 27. 2012 11:22PM

Marijuana backers seek veto override

CONCORD — Supporters of legalizing the medical use of marijuana will try to garner enough votes in the state Senate today to override an expected gubernatorial veto.

“We're going to try to get a veto-proof majority,” said the bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Jim Forsythe, R-Strafford, at a news conference Tuesday. “We broke the party lines this year and have at least seven Republican senators supporting it.”

Gov. John Lynch vetoed a bill in 2009 to legalize medical marijuana use and threatened to veto a similar bill last year that was defeated in the Senate after passing the House.

“This bill is less restrictive than the bill he vetoed,” said Colin Manning, Lynch's press secretary. “He will veto this one.”

Senate Bill 409 would allow patients with “debilitating medical conditions” or their caretaker to possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana or cultivate up to six plants and 12 seedlings within a locked and secured facility in a location known to law enforcement.

A patient or caretaker would also be allowed to possess up to 2 ounces away from home without prosecution.

Under the bill, access to marijuana would be allowed for patients with diseases such cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, muscular dystrophy, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder, or with symptoms such as severe nausea or vomiting, seizures and severe, persistent muscle spasms.

A person would need a doctor to certify that marijuana would help treat the patient's condition before a registry card would be issued to the patient and the caregiver.

The sponsors say allowing cultivation instead of dispensaries reduces the risk of abuse and the risk of federal prosecution. Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law.

The sale of marijuana to an unauthorized person would be a Class B felony under the bill, and other criminal penalties for illegal sale of drugs would apply.

“We very purposely made this bill so it doesn't have a profit incentive,” Forsythe said.

Cancer survivor and Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster, has worked on the issue for six years and is a sponsor of the proposed legislation. At the news conference, she said she had a brief, but life-saving experience with marijuana.

“Not to discount prescription drugs, but the fact remains it was medical cannabis that proved to be what ultimately gave me the strength to live,” Merrick said, adding it provided relief she could not find in prescription drugs from her doctor.

Medical marijuana has broad support among the state's citizens, she said, and noted those who oppose its use have preconceived notions associating the drug with the 1960s and street abuse. “This is a very important medication,” Merrick said.

Matt Simon, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the New Hampshire program would be more in line with those in Maine and Vermont than California, which has few restrictions.

Under the bill, the program would end in three years if lawmakers do not renew it.

Dennis Acton of Fremont, a cancer survivor who now suffers from glaucoma, said “This is about two things: personal freedom and personal responsibility.”

The bill would give patients the freedom to talk to their doctors about marijuana treatment and the personal responsibility to participate in their treatment, he said.

The program could not begin until enough donations are received by the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the program.

To date 14 states allow medical marijuana cultivation and two other states allow the drug's use for medical reasons.

The Senate will vote on SB 409 Wednesday. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 5-0 to approve the bill.

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