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November 24. 2012 10:48PM

Some see hope for medical marijuana bill

A new governor open to legalizing marijuana for medical purposes could boost the chances of New Hampshire joining the rest of New England in allowing such use.

"We're very optimistic about finally passing it in 2013," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project who has pushed for such a law in New Hampshire.

A new bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in New Hampshire is expected to be filed this week at the State House, he said.

"I think the bill will at least propose patients be allowed to cultivate for themselves or (buy from) dispensaries that are state-licensed," Simon said. "It will be up to the Legislature to go one way or another or both."

Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan backed medical marijuana legislation in 2009 while a state senator and spoke in favor of it during her recent gubernatorial campaign.

On Friday, her spokesman, Marc Goldberg, said Hassan remained open to backing such legislation.

"If appropriately regulated, with controlled and limited dispensing, Governor-elect Hassan supports allowing access to medical marijuana for patients," Goldberg said in an email.

"As governor, she will closely evaluate any bill permitting the use of medically prescribed marijuana to ensure that the method of distribution is safe and tightly regulated and will consult with relevant stakeholders, including the law enforcement and medical communities," he said.

This year, the Senate and the House approved Senate Bill 409, but the Senate in June fell three votes short of overriding the governor's veto. The bill would have allowed seriously and terminally ill patients to grow marijuana for personal use with a doctor's prescription.

In his veto message last June, Gov. John Lynch said he "cannot support establishing a system for the use of medical marijuana that poses risks to the patient, lacks adequate oversight and funding, and risks the proliferation of a serious drug."

The bill's prime sponsor, Sen. James Forsythe, R-Strafford, who didn't seek reelection last year, said about 1,000 patients in New Hampshire could probably benefit from the bill.

Simon said he thinks Democratic gains in the House and Senate "probably adds to our already strong majority." A vote on the medical marijuana bill garnered 62 percent of Republican legislators and 97 percent of Democrats, he said.

"It is a bipartisan measure at this point in both chambers ... and we anticipate having strong bipartisan support again in 2013," Simon said.

Still, he said, "There are a lot of new faces, and we understand they'll have to be convinced to support it."

Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, expects medical marijuana legislation to emerge again in 2013 in the Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats, 13-11. It is "hard to say" now whether a bill would pass the Senate because he hasn't conducted a head count, Bragdon said.

Bragdon, who backed the final version of the marijuana bill this year, said his vote would depend on the details contained in any future bill.

Nearly 20 states allow for medical marijuana, counting Massachusetts, which approved a ballot question this month with 63 percent support, Simon said.

Massachusetts also will be the 15th state to permit home cultivation, he said.

"A patient with a long-term disability such as multiple sclerosis that might live another 30 or 40 years, if that person is capable of cultivating a few plants, that's a savings of a few thousand dollars" a year versus purchasing from a dispensary, Simon said.

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Michael Cousineau may be reached at mcousineau@unionleader.com.


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