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Patients, advocates ask state to speed up implementation of medical marijuana law

A year out from the adoption of New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law, state officials said they’re trying to move quickly to roll out the rules for ID cards, dispensaries and other provisions that go along with it. Not quickly enough, say medical marijuana advocates and others who want to start using the drug without fear of criminal charges.

In a gathering organized by the Marijuana Policy Project – timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the law’s signing – a group of politicians, patients and others presented a list of “grievances and requests” to Gov. Maggie Hassan’s office yesterday morning.

Some of those involved said New Hampshire officials are dragging their feet on implementing key aspects of the law and aren’t doing enough to hear out patients’ views on issues surrounding medical marijuana.

Patients and caregivers should be able to grow their own marijuana plants, the group said in its list of complaints, and they shouldn’t have to wait until the state sets up its dispensaries to get an ID card protecting them against criminal charges for marijuana possession. In February, in response to the Department of Health and Human Services’s request for guidance, the attorney general’s office said the state shouldn’t issue ID cards for medical marijuana “prior to the availability of a lawful source of cannabis in New Hampshire.”

The group gathered yesterday also took issue with the exclusion of post-traumatic stress disorder as a condition covered by the law and called on the governor to reduce penalties for marijuana-related crimes. They also opposed the inclusion of a police chief, Andrew Shagoury of Tuftonboro, as a representative of the public on the state’s medical marijuana advisory council. Shagoury could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon, and a member of his department said he was out of the office.

Richard Vincent, a Loudon resident who has advocated for medical marijuana for years and who leads a monthly support group for people living with multiple sclerosis, said the state is preventing him and others from accessing what could be an important form of relief.

Vincent said he’d ask state officials to consider the following when weighing the pace of the law’s implementation: “If they have a splitting headache, how long do they wait before they take an aspirin? How much tolerance can they go through before they try something that would cure their problems?”

Where things stand

As outlined in the legislation passed last year, the state had until yesterday – a year to the date since Hassan signed the law – to develop rules for issuing patient ID cards and has until January 2015 to establish guidelines for “alternative treatment centers,” or medical marijuana dispensaries.

The Department of Health and Human Services approved the rules for the ID cards last month and adopted them yesterday, said HHS rules coordinator Michael Holt. Those rules are set to take effect next August, Holt said.

The department is also drafting rules for dispensaries, and Holt said he anticipates entering the formal rulemaking phase for those guidelines within the next few months. Holt said the state should be on track to meet the January 2015 deadline to finish those rules and to begin issuing licenses or making selections for the state’s dispensaries, as outlined in the law.

“We’re working very hard to get this program up and running within the confines of the law and within the recommendations of the attorney general,” Holt said.

Holt said, to his knowledge, that the grievances had not been presented to the HHS, and he declined to comment specifically on the grievances presented to the governor yesterday.

Hassan, through her press secretary, acknowledged the advocates’ frustration but said the state is following the timeline outlined in the original law.

“The Governor understands the urgency felt by some of the advocates and patients, but state agencies are working as quickly as possible – under the clear strictures and guidelines set out by the law – to implement the program in a manner that provides relief to patients, while preventing abuse,” spokesman William Hinkle said in a statement.

Hinkle said that as far as he knows, no other formal complaints have been filed with the state regarding the medical marijuana law or its implementation. The state occasionally receives other informal feedback from residents on this issue and the broader issue of marijuana legalization, he said.

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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