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Medical pot program may grow in 2017

New Hampshire Sunday News

December 26. 2016 9:15PM
State Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, is sponsoring a measure to allow New Hampshire patients to cultivate therapeutic cannabis for their own use. (Reuters)

The state’s medical marijuana program has been up and running for nearly eight months, and now some lawmakers are looking to expand the program in 2017.

Eleven Legislative Service Requests (LSRs) for the upcoming session — requests submitted by legislators to have bills drafted — relate to therapeutic cannabis.

Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, is sponsoring a measure to allow patients to cultivate therapeutic cannabis for their own use.

The idea was a sticking point in the original debate about starting a program here. Gov. Maggie Hassan and the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police opposed a grow-your-own provision, so the law was passed without it.

But the proposal will be back in 2017. “I think it’s time for New Hampshire to be able to make that available to patients,” Cushing said.

To him, it’s a matter of “economic justice,” he said. While medical marijuana is now legal in New Hampshire for qualifying patients, health insurance doesn’t cover it. So, “If you don’t have the money to buy it, you don’t have access to it.”

But Northwood Police Chief Glendon Drolet, president of the chiefs association, said he expects the group to oppose the grow-your-own bill because of the “lack of oversight.”

“I just think that at this point, if the ball goes faster than the runner, we’re playing catch-up all the time,” Drolet said.

Six LSRs would add to the list of qualifying conditions for which a patient can obtain medical marijuana: chronic pain, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, opioid addiction, hepatitis C and myelitis (a neurological disorder).

A patient must have both a qualifying condition and at least one of certain symptoms — such as wasting syndrome, severe nausea or seizures — to be approved to buy medical marijuana from one of the four state-licensed dispensaries. A licensed physician or advanced practice registered nurse must certify that the patient has both.

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, is sponsoring a measure to broaden the definition of qualifying conditions in the therapeutic cannabis law. The current language includes 16 specific medical conditions as well as “one or more injuries that significantly interferes with daily activities as documented by the patient’s provider.”

Reagan, who serves on the state’s Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Advisory Council, said the council learned that the current language about “injuries” ended up excluding dozens of patients who would otherwise qualify for the program.

Reagan asked John Martin, deputy legal counsel for the state health department, for help drafting a bill that would include both “injuries” and “conditions” in that language.

That way, a patient would be able to qualify for the program if a doctor certifies that he or she has a debilitating condition, not just an injury, explained Martin, who helped craft the state’s regulations for therapeutic cannabis.

In the past, the state has had to reject an application if the doctor did not specify an injury, even if the patient otherwise qualified, he said. Reagan’s bill tries to address that.

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