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House finance committee signs off on medical marijuana bill

State House Bureau

May 10. 2012 11:17PM

CONCORD - The House Finance Committee has signed off on a medical marijuana bill with an amendment that would fund the proposed program completely through private donations.

Both the House and Senate have voted for Senate Bill 409, and the House committee was tasked with reviewing the bill's financial implications.

The committee voted 18-8 on Thursday to approve the bill with the amendment.

A subcommittee member, Rep. Paul Simard, R-Bristol, said the panel concluded the program would be best administered without identification card fees that patients would have been charged in the original bill, a view backed by its sponsors and Health and Human Services officials.

Instead, an amendment to the bill calls for the creation of a 'Registry Identification Card Fund,' which would be allowed to accept gifts, grants and donations of any size, without approval from the governor and Executive Council. The fund would be overseen by the state Treasury.

'The testimony we heard was that this could be funded entirely through gifts and donations - one cost presented was about $200,000 to get the program going,' Simard said.

The bill would allow a patient or a registered caregiver to possess up to six ounces ofmarijuanaor cultivate up to four plants within a locked and secured facility in a location known to law enforcement. A patient or caregiver would also be allowed to possess up to two ounces away from home.

The bill is expected to be voted on again by the full House next week.

Despite its passage by the House and Senate, the bill still faces an uphill climb to overcome a promised veto from Gov. John Lynch, who has supported the law enforcement position that the bill could lead to the proliferation and abuse of marijuana.

While there are enough votes in the House for an override, the Senate is three votes away from the needed three-fifths majority.

The bill has grown increasingly complex as sponsors have sought to address some of the concerns of law enforcement. Now numbering 14 pages, it specifies a list of 'debilitating health conditions' for which marijuana may be prescribed, felony penalties for those who fraudulently use the ID cards and a three-year sunset clause, among other details.

Simard called SB 409 'probably the tightest medical marijuana bill ever introduced in this country.'