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Several changes proposed for N.H. medical marijuana law

An employee weighs portions of retail marijuana to be packaged and sold at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, Tuesday Dec. 31, 2013. Colorado is making final preparations for marijuana sales to begin Jan. 1, a day some are calling "Green Wednesday." (AP file/Brennan Linsley)

An employee weighs portions of retail marijuana to be packaged and sold at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, Tuesday Dec. 31, 2013. Colorado is making final preparations for marijuana sales to begin Jan. 1, a day some are calling "Green Wednesday." (AP file/Brennan Linsley)

Gov. Maggie Hassan wasn’t at the Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting yesterday, but she was on everyone’s mind.

The committee heard passionate testimony from people in favor of amending the state’s new medical marijuana law to allow certified patients to grow two plants, at least until state-licensed dispensaries open.

But Hassan has repeatedly said she will not support legislation allowing people to grow their own marijuana, and with several proposed changes to the law up for debate this year, some senators seemed reluctant to test her on this particular issue.

“As much as I want and I know everyone here wants to do the right thing for people, I don’t want us to swing for the fence knowing we would have been happy with a double,” said Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican. “We need someone to get with the governor and see what she can live with.”

Hassan’s position has not changed: “She continues to share the concerns of law enforcement about the state’s ability to effectively regulate a home-grow option,” Deputy Press Secretary William Hinkle said in a statement yesterday.

The House passed the bill 227-73 last month with no debate.

Committee Chairwoman Nancy Stiles, a Republican from Hampton, said she doubts the Senate will approve a home-grow provision one year after killing a similar provision.

“I would like to see people who need it have access to it as soon as they can, but I want it done the way we intended it to be done,” she said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to figure something out, or if we won’t.”

Senate President Chuck Morse, a Republican from Salem, has not supported medical marijuana in the past. Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, supported a 2012 bill that would have allowed home growing. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Many patients and their advocates are pursuing several changes to the law because it could be years before dispensaries open.

Two months ago, the attorney general’s office advised the state not to issue patient registration cards required to use medical marijuana until the dispensaries open.

One change, to be proposed as an amendment to another bill, would require the state to issue the registration cards in July. Another gives the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police a seat on the advisory council reviewing the program. A member of the association currently serves on the council in the seat allocated for a member of the public.

In the meantime, patients such as Donna and Richard Priolo of Farmington risk arrest if they use the medication they say works for them.

Richard Priolo grew organic marijuana several years ago to help Donna, his wife, with the side effects of treatments for breast cancer. When he was diagnosed with hepatitis C, he began growing again.

The couple’s daughter called the police out of rebellion, and Richard Priolo was arrested. He recently received a suspended sentence of six months in jail and a $350 fine.

“We just finished our fight with that,” Donna Priolo said. “We are relieved with the outcome . . . but the best way is for us to grow our own and make sure it’s clean and safe on our own and choose for ourselves what we want to have.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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