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Medical marijuana passes Senate



Last modified: Thursday, June 07, 2012
The state Senate has inched closer to legalizing medical marijuana in New Hampshire, but the votes aren't quite there yet.

Sen. Jim Forsythe, a Strafford Republican and primary sponsor of Senate Bill 409, said two senators changed their position and voted yesterday in favor of the legislation, but that still leaves the effort two votes short. A patient or caretaker would be allowed to cultivate up to six ounces of usable marijuana if a physician determines the patient has a qualifying medical condition, defined as a severely debilitating or terminal disease that causes symptoms or treatment results alleviated by marijuana.

Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, and Sen. Fenton Groen, a Rochester Republican, voted for the bill yesterday after opposing it in previous votes, Forsythe said. The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who has promised to veto it over concerns raised by law enforcement officials.

'While the governor has compassion for people who believe marijuana could have medicinal benefits, he continues to have very strong concerns with this bill,' Lynch spokesman Colin Manning said in a statement yesterday. 'Chief among his concerns are the bill's lack of adequate controls on the distribution of marijuana, and the potential for proliferation.'

When the bill comes back to the Senate following Lynch's veto, it will need a two-thirds majority to send it into law. The House has already shown it can pass the bill by a two-thirds margin, but the Senate fell three votes shy on an initial 13-11 vote back in March.

Since then, Forsythe and other advocates have sought to educate opposing senators about the medicinal benefits of marijuana and further tighten the bill's regulation of the drug. Supporters call it the 'tightest' medical marijuana bill in the country.

Adding Bragdon to the bill's supporters means it now has the backing of the two highest ranking senators, with Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, also in favor. All five Senate Democrats have voted for the bill. Forsythe noted that two of the Senate's leading social conservative voices - Groen and Bedford Republican Ray White - are now supportive.

'We have some of the of the most conservative members of the caucus on our side,' Forsythe said. 'I think that's pretty significant.'

But the bill's Senate prospects also took a blow this week with the resignation of Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Henniker Republican who resigned to move to Bedford and run for White's seat. Sanborn had been a supporter of the bill and, equally as important, his departure does not reduce the number of votes needed to override Lynch. The math is such that achieving two-thirds of the full Senate, at 24 members, and the Senate minus Sanborn, at 23 members, both require 16 votes.

Adding two senators to the cause, while losing one, means Forsythe's bill now has the backing of 14 of the 16 senators needed for passage. Forsythe said he's hopeful a couple of senators who voted 'no' yesterday will change their minds on veto day when the bill's fate actually depends on their support.

'The vast majority of Republicans who have voted 'yes' were 'no' votes prior to that. So I'm not discouraged,' Forsythe said.

A date for the Senate's veto day has yet to be set. The House has decided on June 27. Forsythe noted that if one of the bill's opponents happens to miss that one-off session day in the middle of the summer - leaving 22 senators present, now that Sanborn is gone - only 15 votes would constitute a two-thirds majority.

Under that scenario, one vote would separate New Hampshire from joining the 17 other states and the District of Columbia that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana.

'We're just going to continue the conversation,' Forsythe said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @mattspolar.)