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My Turn: Hassan’s medical marijuana flip-flop hurts patients

It’s sad what’s happening – or rather, what isn’t happening – with New Hampshire’s “therapeutic use of cannabis” program. Despite the fact that a medical marijuana bill was signed into law last July, nine months later patients are still no better off than they were a year ago.

This failure of our state government to protect even the sickest patients can be laid squarely at the feet of two individuals: Gov. Maggie Hassan and former governor John Lynch.

Let’s rewind. The House and Senate have approved medical marijuana bills three times dating back to 2009, and all three bills were either killed or mangled at the behest of Democratic governors. As a result, today New Hampshire is the only state in New England where doctors still can’t help their patients get legal protection if they have a serious illness and could benefit from marijuana.

In 2009, the House and Senate approved a bill that would have allowed doctor-approved patients to cultivate a limited amount of marijuana for personal use. Unfortunately, Lynch insisted that patients could not be allowed the freedom to take care of themselves. In an effort to appease the governor, Democrats rewrote the bill, replacing the limited government approach with a top-down, bureaucratic system that would have maintained felony penalties against any individual patient growing his or her own marijuana plants for medicinal use.

Lynch vetoed the bill anyway, and the effort to override his veto fell two votes short. Patients’ hopes were crushed, and some have since uprooted their families, moving to neighboring states so they could legally find relief by growing a simple plant.

Let’s flash forward to 2012, when the House and Senate were led by Republican supermajorities and Sen. Jim Forsythe, a Strafford Republican, took the lead on this issue by sponsoring SB 409.

Forsythe felt strongly that health care decisions should be made by doctors and patients, not by bureaucrats or police officers. His bill abandoned the bureaucratic approach and returned to the simple concept of protecting doctor-approved patients from arrest and prosecution.

This compassionate Republican proposal won majority support from both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, but it was again vetoed and killed by Lynch.

After this second crushing defeat, patients seeking protection were relieved when Hassan announced she was running for governor. Then-Majority Leader Hassan had voted for the bill that would have allowed plants and immediate legal protections in 2009, so patients thought their time had finally come, and many became supporters of her campaign.

But then she flip-flopped.

In 2013, the House passed HB 573 with more than 80 percent support. This bill would have allowed limited home cultivation and would have also allowed for a few state-regulated dispensaries. In a word, it would have given patients choice.

But as we often see on other issues, such as education and health care, Democrats like Hassan just don’t appear to see any value in letting individuals make their own choices. While HB 573 was being considered by the Senate, Hassan turned against the interests of patients and threatened to veto the bill unless the Senate gutted several key provisions.

Senators felt they had no choice but to appease the governor, so they agreed to remove home cultivation, and they also stripped the provisions that would have immediately given patients some degree of legal protection.

As a result of Hassan’s intervention, it is still a felony if even the sickest cancer or multiple sclerosis patient cultivates a single plant. Sadly, Hassan’s bureaucratic, grin-and-bear-it approach to medical marijuana is harming some of our state’s most seriously ill residents.

A very limited bill was introduced this year that would have allowed patients to grow two mature plants, but only until a dispensary opens within 30 miles of a patient’s residence.

Sadly, although the House approved this bill with 76 percent support, a Senate committee has condemned it to “interim study.”

Unless the Legislature pulls off a miracle in the next few weeks, the needless suffering of patients will continue for another year and a half or longer. After watching this saga unfold, I have to ask — if this is how Maggie Hassan “solves” problems for our state’s sickest residents, how will she “solve” the next serious problem, or the one after that?

(Andrew Hemingway is a Republican candidate for governor.)

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