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N.H. Senate passes medical marijuana law; negotiations with House likely over changes

Last modified: 5/25/2013 1:49:26 AM
New Hampshire is one step closer to becoming the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana, but whether patients will be allowed to grow their own cannabis is still an open question.

The Republican-led Senate yesterday voted, 18-6, to approve a modified version of the medical marijuana bill that passed the Democratic-led House two months ago on a 286-64 vote.

“This law will not make New Hampshire a California, Colorado or Washington state. The restrictions in this bill will help ensure that this is a New Hampshire law that helps New Hampshire patients,” said Sen. John Reagan, a Deerfield Republican, referring to California’s liberal medical marijuana law and the recent votes in Colorado and Washington to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has said she supports legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana, but wants marijuana available only at special dispensaries. The House bill contained a home-grow provision, but the Senate deferred to Hassan and removed it.

The bill will likely go to a committee of conference to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions. Supporters are optimistic that some version of the bill will become law this year.

“We know we’re going to pass something,” said Rep. Donna Schlachman, an Exeter Democrat and the legislation’s prime sponsor, earlier this month.

Medical marijuana laws are on the books in 18 states plus the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, though marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Bills have passed New Hampshire’s Legislature twice in the last four years, but both times were voted by then-Gov. John Lynch.

This year’s bill would allow seriously ill or terminal patients with cancer and other specified conditions to use marijuana to ease symptoms including pain and weight loss.

The Senate made several changes to the House’s bill, including eliminating the home-grow option in favor of four special dispensaries, limiting the use of an “affirmative defense” in court and removing post-traumatic stress disorder from the list of eligible conditions.

An amendment offered yesterday by Sen. Russell Prescott, a Kingston Republican, would have allowed dispensaries to sell cannabis-based oils and patches, and required the dispensaries to sell vaporizer devices. It was rejected, 18-6.

The full Senate then passed the bill on an 18-6 vote. All six “no” votes came from Republicans.

“We applaud the senators for adopting this compassionate and much-needed legislation despite its imperfections,” said Matt Simon, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “Those suffering from debilitating medical conditions deserve safe and legal access to medical marijuana, and the Senate has once again clearly indicated its support for patients.”

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


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