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Editorial: State should allow medical marijuana



Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013
To alleviate the suffering of the seriously sick and terminally ill, New Hampshire, should join the rest of the New England states and decriminalize the controlled use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The New Hampshire Medical Society, the state Department of Safety, the police chiefs association and attorney general all oppose legalizing the use of medical marijuana, but the concerns they cite aren’t weighty enough to tip the scales against the passage of Exeter Democratic Rep. Donna Schlachman’s bill. Eighteen states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, and legislation is pending in eight more, including New Hampshire. What experience elsewhere shows is that to work as intended, and not lead to the proliferation of marijuana users, strict controls are required. Those controls should extend to patients, caregivers, marijuana dispensaries and physicians.

House Bill 537 proposes limiting the use of marijuana to patients suffering from a specific set of diseases or conditions: cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, HIV, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis. Missing from that list is chronic pain, a diagnosis that at least anecdotally has been blamed for making it easy for people to feign injury in order to convince a physician to prescribe marijuana.

Credible studies have shown that the active ingredient in marijuana does relieve pain in some people and may have an anti-inflammatory effect. The drug has also proven useful, in some people, in reducing extreme anxiety and permitting sleep. If, after a trial period, no significant level of abuse occurs with the legalization of medical marijuana, lawmakers should assume that the control system in place works. At that point, they should consider expanding the list of ailments for which marijuana may be prescribed.

The bill, as written, would allow patients with a prescription, and their caregiver, to possess up to four marijuana plants. Gov. Maggie Hassan, who supported the legal use of medical marijuana as a state senator, has concerns about that portion of the bill. It’s also the component that would be the most difficult to monitor and enforce. If stripping the cultivation provision from the bill makes its passage more likely, its sponsors should do so. Later, if marijuana from the five state-authorized dispensaries proves to be too expensive to provide relief to sufferers with a limited income, lawmakers could reconsider the grow-your-own provision.

Over the years, a long list of people with horrible illnesses or in terrible pain, their loved ones and their survivors, have trouped to the State House to plead with lawmakers. They want the ability to alleviate their suffering without becoming criminals. They want to obey the law but believe they have no choice but to break it. When they do, the legal system looks the other way out of compassion, as it should.

The Legislature shouldn’t punish citizens in pain because it lacks the wit or the will to create a system that allows them to access a source of relief without increasing the recreational use of marijuana. We’re confident such a system can be created. Lawmakers should pass House Bill 573 and Hassan should sign it.