Doctors, law enforcement try to temper medical marijuana proposal
Before allowing patients to use medical marijuana, the state should seek a waiver from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, opponents told a state Senate committee yesterday.
With both legislative and gubernatorial support for authorizing therapeutic use of marijuana, the law enforcement and medical communities also proposed a tightly controlled, mandatory study of patients and a board of physicians to review every doctor recommendation of the drug before a patient could start using it.
As approved by the House with more than 4-1 support last month, the proposed law would allow patients with specific diseases and specific symptoms to grow a limited amount of marijuana themselves or purchase it from a licensed dispensary.
Similar legislation passed the Legislature twice in the past four years, only to be vetoed by former governor John Lynch, at the urging of law enforcement. Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she could support a “safe and tightly regulated” medical marijuana program.
A representative for the New Hampshire attorney general’s office also gave unprecedented, albeit tepid, support for the proposal at yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee, saying the office is “willing to work with the committee and with the medical community to see if we can resolve the concerns we have about the bill.”
However, “the (New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police) continue to oppose this legislation,” said Enfield police Chief Richard Crate, after the hearing.
“That being said, everybody’s intention seems to be to pass some form of this bill. . . . When we found out that’s where this was going, we said, ‘We’ve got to make lemonade out of lemons here.’ ”
That means, for him, a proposal to institute a three-physician board to review every patient who receives a doctor recommendation for marijuana, along with a requirement that the patient submit to a quarterly review.
Seddon Savage, speaking at the hearing on behalf of the New Hampshire Medical Society, agreed.
“It really is an experimental medical treatment,” she said.
“Nobody to my knowledge has studied a statewide system of clinical cannabis use and looked at the statewide impacts.”
Such a study would mean that the patients would need to provide basic information about their health, including any medical diagnoses, prescribed medication, mood and sleep habits, she said.
Crate also proposed obtaining a waiver from the federal drug authorities before beginning the distribution in New Hampshire, though he said after the hearing he expected that to be “a battle,” and he allowed for the possibility of a backup plan of moving forward without federal authorization.
Members of the chiefs’ association have met with some senators and plan to meet with more, he said, hoping to “assure them this isn’t something we’re trying to use as a delay tactic. I’m not playing games.
“I respect the people that feel this is already a very tight law, but they’re taking into account that there’s not a criminal element out there that’s going to take advantage of it. . . . We can do this in a way that is beneficial and keeps the abuse out of it,” he said.
Proponents of the law said the controls already envisioned are adequate, and any further restrictions may only delay access to a medication many said they need as soon as possible.
Clayton Houghton of Rochester suffers from a rare form of muscular dystrophy. For the past several years, he’s been prescribed larger and larger doses of oxycodone to manage his pain, but the side effects are becoming increasingly problematic, he said.
“It’s a very fine line to walk and it’s getting ridiculous,” he said. “After seven years of coming to Concord as a spokesperson for myself and for others, my condition has gotten to a point where I just don’t have it in me anymore.”
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)