Advisory council meets as N.H. continues measured rollout of medical marijuana law
The rollout of New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law continued yesterday with the first meeting of a new advisory committee, though the program may not begin issuing registry cards to patients until the second half of 2014.
On July 23, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill that passed the Legislature with broad bipartisan support, and New Hampshire became the 19th state allowing patients with serious and terminal illnesses to legally use marijuana to ease their pain and other symptoms.
But without a registry card from the state, even a qualifying patient has no protection from arrest and prosecution under the state’s drug laws. The law gives the state Department of Health and Human Services a deadline of July 23, 2014 to finalize the administrative rules needed to begin issuing the cards.
“If it’s possible to get them done sooner, I think people would be happy, but I expect that we’re going to need to take a whole lot more time for that,” said Michael Holt, the department’s rules coordinator, yesterday at the first meeting of the Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Advisory Council, which will help oversee the program.
Holt said he didn’t know when a first draft of the rules would be ready. Eventually, they must be approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.
Advocates would like to see patients get cards sooner rather than later.
“We want to get them the protection that they need as soon as possible,” said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and, like Holt, a member of the advisory council.
Administrative rules must also be prepared for the four dispensaries where marijuana will be sold to patients. Those rules are due Jan. 23, 2015, and must be in place before the dispensaries can open.
This year’s law came after two previous attempts to legalize medical marijuana in New Hampshire fell short. In 2009 and 2012, bills passed the Legislature but were vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch.
Under the law enacted this year, patients with cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis or another qualifying condition – and their designated caregivers – can get special registry cards allowing them to legally possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana. At Hassan’s insistence, the law doesn’t allow patients to grow their own marijuana.
The 15-member advisory council yesterday spent more than two hours discussing its role, electing a chairman (Rep. Jim MacKay, a Concord Democrat) and reviewing the process of implementing the medical-marijuana program over the next year and a half or so.
It also voted to back proposed legislation that would make two technical corrections to the law.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or email@example.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)