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Sparking up support: N.H. poised to expand medical marijuana laws

  • Heather Marie Brown attends a "420" pro-marijuana legalization rally outside the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 20, 2017. Brown suffers from chronic pain and PTSD. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Marijuana legalization supporters attend a “4/20” rally outside the State House in Concord on Thursday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Rick Naya, 55, a longtime Concord resident originally from Palm Beach, Fla., smokes a joint during a “4/20” pro-marijuana legalization rally outside the State House in Concord on Thursday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Heather Marie Brown attends a “4/20” rally on Thursday. Brown suffers from chronic pain and PTSD. ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Marijuana legalization supporters attend a "420" rally outside the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 20, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Thursday, April 20, 2017

The New Hampshire Legislature is poised to vastly expand the state’s medicinal marijuana laws by giving patients with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder access to the drug.

Proponents hope the move will help curb the state’s opioid crisis by giving patients an alternative to powerful, addictive prescription painkillers.

“We heard, in fact, people who had been addicted to opioids because of chronic pain were now no longer addicted because of therapeutic cannabis,” said Sen. Martha Hennessey, a Hanover Democrat.

New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana in 2013 and since then lawmakers have debated expanding its use to include more qualifying conditions. The state Senate on Thursday approved therapeutic cannabis for chronic pain in an 18-5 vote, but sent a bill allowing it for PTSD back to committee for more work. Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said members hope to combine five separate bills expanding medical marijuana into one and pass that.

Cannabis tends to be a thorny topic in the State House. While Maine and Massachusetts opted recently to legalize pot, New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has yet to decriminalize small amounts of the drug. A bill making its way through the State House would reduce penalties for first-time possession. But the measure has yet to come up for a vote in the Republican-led Senate, where marijuana bills face most pushback.

Roughly 60 people gathered outside the State House Thursday for an annual 4/20 rally, some holding signs calling for home grow, others lighting up joints. Several speakers pushed for state lawmakers to legalize marijuana, a policy more than 60 percent of residents support, according to a WMUR Granite State poll from last summer.

“What we need with medical marijuana is one more qualifying condition, and that condition is free will,” said Carla Gericke, president of the Foundation for New Hampshire Independence, as the crowd cheered.

Concord man Michael Barton, who wore a T-shirt with the words “Team Ganja” in big letters, said lawmakers should at least make it easier for people to get medical marijuana.

Though therapeutic cannabis was legalized in 2013, the state’s four approved dispensaries didn’t open their doors until last year. Marijuana Policy Project New England Director Matt Simon said some patients struggle to get the drug, either contending with high cost or traveling far distances to get to the nearest dispensary.

“We have created a supply chain problem in this state and we’re not meeting it,” said Democratic Sen. Jay Kahn of Keene during debate on the bills.

The original medicinal marijuana law allowed use by people with cancer, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury, among other ailments. The bill approved by the Senate would allow people with moderate to severe chronic pain to get access to therapeutic cannabis. Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn, pointed out the change will move from “treating illness to treating a symptom.”

Heather Marie Brown, 39, suffers from both chronic pain and PTSD and is hopeful the bills become law so she can get access to medical marijuana. She has tried pain pills, but the prescriptions weakened her heart, kidneys and liver. Marijuana helps reduce her symptoms without those side affects, said Brown, who showed up at the State House rally.

“I can’t take care of my children when I am all doped out on pain medication,” she said. “My quality of life will be so much more improved.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)