N.H. House committee votes 14-1 to endorse medical marijuana bill

Last modified: 3/11/2013 9:55:28 AM
A bill that would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana in New Hampshire got a nearly unanimous endorsement yesterday from the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee.

The panel voted, 14-1, to recommend the full House pass the bill, which would allow seriously ill or dying patients to grow or obtain marijuana to relieve pain and other symptoms.

Rep. Stephen Schmidt, a Wolfeboro Republican, said the bill is “one of the most tightly controlled medical marijuana laws in the nation. This bill will ensure that only – and I emphasize the word ‘only’ – those people that are terminally or severely disabled or chronically ill will be able to obtain medical marijuana.”

The prospects for a medical marijuana law – though the bill passed out of committee yesterday doesn’t use that term, instead referring to “the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes” – look good this year.

Similar bills have passed the Legislature twice in the last four years, but both times were vetoed by former governor John Lynch. However, fellow Democrat, Gov. Maggie Hassan, has said she supports medical marijuana.

But she’s also expressed concern about any legislation that would allow patients or caregivers to grow marijuana, instead of obtaining it from a licensed dispensary. The bill headed now to the House floor would allow patients to grow their own plants or obtain marijuana from a nonprofit dispensary.

“My preference would be that we start with tight prescribing definitions and (a) dispensary,” Hassan told the Monitor last week.

This year’s medical marijuana bill was introduced by Rep. Donna Schlachman, an Exeter Democrat, but was overhauled by the committee with an amendment adopted yesterday.

It would limit the program to patients suffering significant weight loss, severe pain and other symptoms as a result of cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pancreatitis or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The bill would also let the commissioner of health and human services grant permission to patients with nonqualifying medical conditions on a case by case basis.

Qualifying patients would be allowed to, with a written certification from their medical provider, obtain and use marijuana to ease their symptoms.

The bill would also create a “Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Advisory Council” to oversee the program, and after five years, the council would issue a formal report on whether the program should continue or be repealed.

Rep. Bill Nelson, a Brookfield Republican, was the sole vote yesterday against the bill. He said he supports the medicinal use of marijuana “under very strict circumstances,” and that while the bill’s language had been tightened, it was “not quite enough” for him to support.

The strongest endorsement during yesterday’s debate came from Rep. Patrick Culbert, a Pelham Republican, who said his late wife found relief by smoking marijuana, just once, while she battled cancer for four years.

She refused to smoke it again, he said, because she feared being arrested.

“She died an agonizing death. . . . People like Judy shouldn’t have to die like that,” Culbert said. “She should have died with dignity, and she didn’t.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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