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Debate rising over proposed marijuana law in the Granite State

By GARRY RAYNO
State House Bureau

February 10. 2015 11:49PM


CONCORD — Chris Lopez of Manchester has been paralyzed for three years and suffers severe and painful muscle spasms. Her only relief comes from marijuana.

House Bill 593 would allow those who qualify under the state’s medical marijuana law to grow their own cannabis until a dispensary opens within 30 miles of their residence.

 

“Without (this bill) I am considered a criminal,” Lopez told the House Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee Tuesday. “I am not a criminal. I am a person who needs relief.”

HB 593 supporters say people like Lopez, cancer sufferers and others with terminal or severe chronic illnesses need help today and should not have to wait for state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to open.

The law enforcement community has continually opposed the program and Tuesday a representative called the bill a slippery slope because it allows personal marijuana cultivation and expands those who would qualify.

 

“In other states (with medical marijuana programs),” said State Police Capt. Paul Hardcastle, “everyone is walking around with a marijuana card in their pocket going to a dispensary.”

 

He said the bill attempts to change the program before it has been fully implemented. Hardcastle was concerned the bill would make cultivation and use a right, rather than a privilege.

New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law prohibits patients and their caregivers from growing their own marijuana plants, which is allowed in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont.

 

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Ted Wright, R-Moultonborough, said the bill “simply bridges the gap” between now and when the four dispensaries open.

If a dispensary opens within 30 miles of a qualified patient, then they would no longer be allowed to grow their own cannabis, he said.

The bill would allow a person or his or her caregiver to grow two mature marijuana plants along with six seedlings. The site would have to be registered with the state, and would be subject to random inspections by the local health department.

The bill also would expand the medical conditions that qualify for the program to include epilepsy, lupus, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

 

Matt Simon, New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said seriously ill residents have been asking since 2009 for two things: protection against arrest for using marijuana and safe, legal access to the drug.

They still do not have legal protection or access to marijuana, he said, but would if they lived in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts or Rhode Island or the rest of New England where marijuana is decriminalized.

“This is likely to be a slow process,” Simon said, “and when (alternative treatment centers) do open, they will be non-profit, start-up businesses with no guarantee of being able to meet the needs of patients.”

He noted the bill is very narrow compared to bills the legislature has passed in 2009 and 2012. Jim Blackie of Laconia, who has an aggressive form of cancer, said the drug should be legalized, but noted HB 593 is a stepping stone to that end.

“Countless lives could have been saved with marijuana,” Blackie said. “If you do not pass this bill or delay it, not to wish you anything bad, but in the future you could be in my place.”

Last year the House passed a nearly identical bill on a 227-73 vote, but the Senate sent the bill to interim study, a polite death.Two years ago the House approved a bill including the home-grown provision, but the Senate deleted it at the request of Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.

grayno@unionleader.com


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