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Medical marijuana hearing draws passionate testimony

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 21. 2013 8:24PM
Dr. Seddon Savage gives testimony on behalf of the New Hampshire Medical Society in opposition to HB 573 which would allow use of medical marijuana with a doctors' prescription during a hearing of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee in Concord on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD - Supporters of the legalization of marijuana for medical use in New Hampshire used a public hearing Thursday to try to head off the arguments that have repeatedly doomed similar proposals in recent years.

While the House Health and Human Services Committee heard a doctor's testimony that marijuana is not medicine and heard police officials testify that legal marijuana will create enforcement issues, members also heard from people who say their lives and the lives of family members, were made tolerable through the use of marijuana for relief from the pain of cancer, multiple sclerosis or other illnesses.

Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, main sponsor of House Bill 573 promised that legalizing medical marijuana will not lead to a new industry featuring medical providers handing out prescriptions for people who come in off the street complaining about aches and pains.

"In New Hampshire, to get a prescription for medical marijuana, you will have to have at least a three-month relationship with your provider," Schlachman said. "I'm not sitting here because I am advocating that we encourage youth to participate in drugs, absolutely not, we are talking about a medicine."

The bill has also been amended to allow regulated quantities of home-grown marijuana for medicinal purposes.

But Dr. Seddon Savage, who has practiced in the field of pain medication for 30 years and is a past president of the American Pain Association, told the panel that no matter what properties people find in it, marijuana can't be considered medicine.

"In the context of medical health care, herbal marijuana is not a medicine as we think of contemporary medicine," Savage said. "This is not a modern medicine."

Agreeing that marijuana can relieve pain or nausea and may even have properties as an anti-inflammatory, Savage said two marijuana drugs have won federal approval for medical use, with a third undergoing trials and called work to use the cannabis plant in medicine "promising."

But she claimed that self-medication with street-level doses of marijuana is "a herbal remedy," and urged the committee not to exempt it from standards used to make sure drugs that are safe and effective.

"Because of its propensity to be used, overused, abused and in fact cause addiction in many people who use it, (marijuana) is a controlled substance - wisely," Savage said.

State Sen. John Reagan, R-Concord, who watched both his wife and his mother die after battles with cancer, testified in support of legalizing medical marijuana to relieve the pain of the disease and its treatment.

His wife, who had worked as a lobbyist for the state police chiefs association, refused to allow her husband to bend the rules.

"I offered to go find some some place, but she wouldn't use it because of her loyalty to her client," Reagan said. "There are people who already know that they're going to get relief from this and we're condemning them to a high-dollar, horrible side-effect option for pain control."

Deerfield police chief Richard Crate claimed that legal medical marijuana means trouble for law enforcement,officers, who, he said, worry that the mere debate on the subject tends to make marijuana more acceptable and its use more widespread.

"We are concerned that referring to marijuana as medicine is already creating a discussion that says marijuana is not a dangerous drug," Crate said. "It will be very difficult for us to distinguish the recreational marijuana user from the medicinal marijuana user; the potential for redistribution is very real."

Committee members will now turn to drafting a final medical marijuana bill. Gov. Maggie Hassan has already signaled that a bill reaching her desk should provide for tight controls on its use and distribution.

Savage, the pain medicine doctor, said the current proposal has too few controls.

"The bill seems more crafted to creating an infrastructure to provide marijuana to many, many people who think they may feel better using marijuana," Savage said. "It is not in the interest of the citizens of New Hampshire."

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