Our Turn: Override vetoes of therapeutic cannabis law updates

Published: 9/6/2019 8:00:17 AM
Modified: 9/6/2019 8:00:06 AM

For the past 5 years, New Hampshire has allowed residents to use therapeutic marijuana to treat chronic disease (such as cancer), chronic pain (such as Crohn’s disease) or depression (PTSD). Their alternative medication is often an opioid. As legislators we hear that the therapeutic marijuana laws enacted in 2013 need updating.

New Hampshire patients who obtain physician permission to use therapeutic marijuana must wait 90 days for a state ID card before they can access products from one of the state’s four alternative treatment centers. One patient testified, “I fear I’m becoming addicted to opioids while I wait for the state to issue an ID card.” Others have said, “I travel nearly four hours round-trip to reach one of the four centers.” While others have testified, “I’m better off saving time and money, and buying illegally, either on the street or out of state.”

We must do better for Granite Staters who receive physician-authorized permission to use therapeutic marijuana. Residents can’t simply obtain their physician’s permission and go to the local pharmacy. By statute a patient must wait 90 days, while they fill-out a state form and submit a photo on a CD-ROM, so they can receive a state ID card. The process is awful, which makes us think Gov. Chris Sununu was poorly advised when he vetoed legislation to fix it.

Senate Bill 88 aimed to eliminate the current 90-day wait period. Patients must have visited their physician, who must complete a full assessment of the patient’s medical history and current medical condition. If therapeutic marijuana use is authorized by the physician, the information is shared with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and entered into their data base.

This entry process is necessary because only those with prior authorization are allowed to enter one of the state’s regulated alternative treatment centers for therapeutic cannabis. The whole process can be cut down to a day’s wait. Patients don’t need to suffer unnecessarily or use addictive opioids while they wait for a state-issued ID card. The Legislature must override the governor’s veto to implement this common-sense process.

While the above addresses access, the other issue needing attention is the high price to buy therapeutic marijuana from a New Hampshire-authorized alternative treatment center.

New Hampshire’s highly regulated market serves 9,000 patients. SB 145 would authorize the three companies operating the four therapeutic cannabis treatment centers to be for-profit rather than not-for-profit. A look at their financial statements shows that since opening they have all lost money each year they’ve been in business. With only 9,000 authorized patients, New Hampshire’s market is tiny. The companies can’t borrow money, so property, equipment, security and inventory are self-financed, which drives up the price for the product – rather self-defeating.

Companies argue that reorganizing as for-profit businesses would allow them to sell shares, raise capital and lower the price of their products – free enterprise. The Attorney General’s Office defined the pathway for reorganizing in SB 145. Conversion to for-profit status will help keep doors open, provide a means to lower prices and assure a legal means for patients to obtain therapeutic cannabis.

When he vetoed these bills, Gov. Sununu warned that passage would make it easier for these companies to be acquired by out-of-state marijuana companies. But the current companies already all have out-of-state affiliations. And New Hampshire’s therapeutic cannabis market is so small that it isn’t about to be overwhelmed by a large multi-national cannabis production and sales company.

Our state government has made it too difficult and too expensive for many New Hampshire residents to access therapeutic cannabis products. Two fixes passed by the Legislature are immediately available. We ask you to contact your state legislators and urge them to override the governor’s vetoes of SB 88 and SB 145, and lower the barriers for accessing therapeutic marijuana.

(Jay Kahn of Keene and John Reagan of Deerfield represent districts 10 and 17, respectively, in the New Hampshire Senate.)

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