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March 07. 2013 11:25AM

House committee approves medical marijuana bill

CONCORD - One member of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee told of his wife's struggle with cancer and how marijuana helped relieve her pain.

But, said Rep. Patrick Culbert, R-Pelham, his wife was afraid of being arrested and never took marijuana again - even though he begged her to.

She died a horrible death in great pain, vomiting all the time during the last six weeks, he said.

"People like Judy should not have to die like that," Culbert told his colleagues on the committee before they voted on a bill to allow medical marijuana or "therapeutic cannabis." "She should have died with dignity, but she did not."

Culbert was one of 14 members of the 15-member committee to vote for a revised bill, House Bill 573, allowing a small group of terminally and chronically ill patients or those with debilitating conditions to use marijuana to help relieve their conditions if other medications do not.

The proposed legislation lists a number of illnesses that qualify, including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and hepatitis C, as well as conditions such as significant weight loss, severe pain or wasting syndrome.

Patients would have to have both the illness and accompanying symptoms. State Health and Human Services officials, who would administer the program, could add illnesses and conditions to the list on a case-by-case basis.

The bill would allow a person who qualifies for the drug to grow up to three marijuana plants and 12 seedlings, which Gov. Maggie Hassan opposes, although she has said she supports the use of medical marijuana.

Patients whose doctors determine they meet the criteria for medical marijuana treatment would be able to possess up to six ounces of the drug without arrest by state or local law enforcement.

But the bill does not protect patients who drive under the influence of the drug, committee members were told, nor does it protect anyone from prosecution under federal law.

Rep. Stephen Schmidt, R-Wolfeboro, who chaired a sub-committee on the bill, said the proposal addresses problems other states have experienced.

"This would be one of the most tightly controlled medical marijuana (programs) in the nation," Schmidt said.

The program would serve only New Hampshire residents. Visitors who qualify for medical marijuana in other states would not be able to obtain the drug while here.

Someone would have to be a doctor's patient for 90 days before he or she could qualify. That would end the doctor-shopping other states have experienced, Schmidt said.

The bill also establishes an advisory committee - including several opponents of the bill such as the attorney general and law enforcement officials - to "ensure the law as passed does no more and no less than it was intended to do," Schmidt said.

The committee would also make a recommendation to the legislature if the program should continue after five years.

Several committee members were concerned the bill was too restrictive.

"You have to be almost dead before using medical marijuana," Rep. Richard Meaney, R-Goffstown, said. "I would prefer a person be able to use marijuana as part of their treatment."

After the committee voted for the bill, Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said he was pleased with the overwhelming support on the committee.

The "legislative support provides great relief to many seriously ill patients and their families, who have been waiting years for medical marijuana to become legal in New Hampshire," said Simon. "Patients whose doctors recommend they use marijuana to treat their conditions should not have to live in fear of arrest in the 'Live Free or Die' state."

If House Bill 573 passes the House, it will go to the Senate for action.

A similar bill passed the House and Senate last year, but was vetoed by former Gov. John Lynch.



grayno@unionleader.com


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