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As state works toward approving treatment centers, medical marijuana law delays prompt rep to file suit

By DAVID SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 09. 2015 8:16PM




CONCORD — A Republican state representative is suing the Department of Health and Human Services and Commissioner Nick Toumpas over delays in implementing the state’s medical marijuana law.

Manchester Rep. Joseph Lachance said his status as a patient in need of marijuana therapy for pain management gives him standing as a plaintiff.

Filed in Merrimack County Superior Court on May 29, the lawsuit is demanding that the state meet the requirements of legislation passed in 2013, approve alternative treatment centers within 30 days of a court order and issue patient ID cards, so that patients like Lachance can acquire marijuana without fear of prosecution.

On the day Lachance announced his lawsuit, the Department of Health and Human Services released a list of three applicants chosen for the next step in the process of approving treatment centers, where marijuana could be legally grown and dispensed.

Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of N.H. has been chosen to serve Merrimack and Hillsborough counties; Temescal Wellness has been chosen for the Seacoast, Monadnock and Upper Valley regions; and Sanctuary ATC has been chosen for Grafton, Carroll and Coos counties.

“This is an important milestone to bring the Alternative Treatment Centers online,” said Toumpas. “Now that the selections have been made, we will work closely to make them operational as soon as possible so that they can open their doors and begin to provide relief to the individuals who are in need and suffering from serious medical conditions.”

The selected companies must now follow a post-selection registration process, which is expected to take several months, and will require each of them to get local approvals and establish operations. Specific locations within each geographic area have not even been determined.

Opposition to ID cards

Gov. Maggie Hassan, with support from police organizations, opposes issuing patient ID cards until the licensed marijuana dispensaries are up and running, which still could take another year or more.

Lachance wants a court ruling that says such delays violate key provisions of the medical marijuana law that took effect on July 23, 2013. The law states that within 18 months of the effective date, DHHS “shall issue alternative treatment center registration certificates.”

That means marijuana dispensaries should have been operating in the state by Jan. 23 of this year.

Lachance’s lawsuit, filed by Manchester attorney Brandon D. Ross, also seeks an order requiring the DHHS to begin accepting applications for ID cards.

“The problem is the law went into effect in 2013, and there are still no dispensaries,” said Lachance. “And they keep moving the goal post. The governor is now talking about 2016.”

Catch-22

Meanwhile, Lachance said, a non-resident with a medical marijuana card from a state that has approved the treatment will escape prosecution for pot possession in New Hampshire, but a Granite State resident with the same medical needs faces arrest.

He said New Hampshire patients who would qualify for medical marijuana are caught in a Catch-22. The law says the cards can’t be issued unless the applicant identifies an alternative treatment center in the state, and no center can be identified because DHHS has taken so long to get them approved.

Legislation that would have allowed qualified patients to obtain ID cards to avoid prosecution while clinics get up and running failed last year, amid threats of a gubernatorial veto and opposition from state and local police.

Refuses opioid treatment

According to the lawsuit, Lachance is an Army veteran who suffers from service-related injuries to his spine and back which produce severe pain.

“I am in chronic pain every day, but I refuse to take opioid medication,” he said. “I would be a qualified patient, and as a disabled veteran I represent a lot of veterans and people who are in pain and who just want to be able to get their card. I was on pain killers for many years and that’s not a road I want to go down.”

Hassan’s spokesman, William Hinkle, said the governor signed the bipartisan medical marijuana legislation, which was approved by 80 percent in the House and 75 percent of votes in the Senate, because she believes that it is the compassionate and right policy for the state.

“But the governor also believes that we must take the time to do this in the right way,” he said. “The governor has also continued to encourage DHHS to work as quickly as possible to implement the program while following all state laws and regulations, and today’s announcement of the selected ATCs is an important step forward.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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