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April 08. 2014 7:30PM

NH senators hear pleas to legalize home medical marijuana cultivation

CONCORD — State senators heard impassioned pleas from cancer patients and others who benefit from cannabis on Tuesday, as one speaker after another urged lawmakers to allow legally certified patients to grow their own pot.

Many of the same people who led the fight to legalize medical marijuana crowded into the small meeting room in the Legislative Office Building to support a bill that would legalize cultivation of two cannabis plants for each patient.

Disregarding a likely veto by Gov. Maggie Hassan, the House on March 6 overwhelmingly passed legislation that would allow ill Granite Staters who can legally obtain medical marijuana to cultivate small amounts on their own while state-licensed treatment facilities are being readied. The House passed HB 1622 with no debate and passed it on to the state Senate with a veto-proof vote of 227-73.

Sen. Andy Sanborn told those in attendance Tuesday that although there is legislative support for the measure, it is not likely to get a veto-proof vote in the Senate, and they need to lobby the governor.

“We’ve seen less support from the governor than a lot of people would like in this room,” he said. “Someone’s got to get in front of the governor and tell her to get behind this. I’m hesitant to jump this thing forward if she is just going to kill it.”

That prompted a terse exchange between Sanborn and Sen. Molly Kelly, a Keene Democrat.

“I think this whole thing about where the governor is ... bringing the governor into this discussion ... is inappropriate,” she said. “We have separate responsibilities and that’s what makes democracy work.”

Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, said the legislature needs to take a stand regardless of the governor’s position. “This is not where we thought we’d be a year later,” she said, referring to the expectation by lawmakers that medical marijuana would be in the hands of patients by now.

The Attorney General instead advised the Department of Health and Human Services not to issue the certification cards to qualified patients until the alternative treatment centers are up and running, which could take years.

“Unless HB 1622 passes, the AG’s ruling could deny patients legal protection until 2016,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project.

Hassan left no doubt about where she stands, in a statement released by her office after the hearing before the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee.

“Gov. Hassan believes that the legislation she signed last year to allow doctors to provide relief to patients through the use of appropriately regulated and dispensed medical marijuana is the compassionate and right policy for New Hampshire,” wrote Deputy Press Secretary William Hinkle in an email.

“But she continues to share the concerns of law enforcement about the state’s ability to effectively regulate a home-grow option and believes that the dispensary approach is the right way to allow for the use of medical marijuana with proper oversight measures to prevent abuse.”

Lt. John Encarnacao of the New Hampshire State Police represented the official opposition to the bill by the Department of Safety. “This is an extremely troubling bill that promises to create more problems than it will solve,” he said.

Kirk McNeil, executive director of NHCompasssion.org, “dedicated to protecting New Hampshire’s medical marijuana patients,” said the Senate is probably six votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed for an override.

He said 13 senators, including all five members of the committee hearing Tuesday’s testimony, have previously supported allowing limited home cultivation for patients.

Many of those patients and their loved ones crowded into the small hearing room in the State House to render emotional testimony.

Dwight Devork of Wolfeboro described his daughter’s 12-year battle with bone cancer, the problems with traditional therapy, and the relief cannabis treatment provided.

Annie Buckman of Concord attended with her elderly grandfather, Mike Dunleavey, who she said suffered serious stomach bleeding from the use of traditional pain-killers and desperately needs cannabis therapy.

Rep. Emily Sandblade, R-Manchester, who serves as food production manager at the New Horizons homeless shelter, said many of her sick and dying clients could not afford the services of an alternative treatment center even when they do come on line, and need the right to legally grow their own.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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