Over 2,000 patients using N.H.’s medical marijuana program – ranging in age from 2 to 98

  • Flowering marijuana plants under yellow heat lamps are seen at Temescal Wellness’s therapeutic cannabis cultivation site in Manchester on Friday, May 6, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 1/14/2017 10:45:46 PM

A year since New Hampshire officials started issuing therapeutic cannabis cards to qualifying patients, the program is now serving more than 2,000 people.

New figures released by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services this week show a diverse variety of ages and health conditions participating in the fledgling program. The state’s alternative treatment centers started opening last spring, with the last one opening in August.

The youngest qualifying patient is two years old; the oldest is 98.

Applications continue to be steady, said Mike Holt, DHHS administrative rules coordinator.

“There does not seem to be any slowdown for the number of people that are applying to the program,” he said. “The new applications are a steady stream.”

Holt said his department saw 85 new applications this week alone, as well as 16 renewal applications.

Four children are participating in the program – ages 2, 4, 5 and 11.

Holt said New Hampshire law allows minors with qualifying medical conditions to use therapeutic cannabis.

However, children and adolescents have to jump through extra hoops than adult patients – they need two written certifications from two different doctors in order to obtain cannabis. One of those doctors has to be a pediatrician.

Furthermore, “the law requires their parent or guardian need to be their designated caregiver,” Holt added. That means the parents purchase cannabis for their children; a child cannot walk into a dispensary and purchase their own product.

Therapeutic cannabis strains high in the cannabinoid CBD have been studied for potentially reducing epilepsy and seizures in children, but doctors say more research is needed.

The majority of New Hampshire’s qualifying patients are using cannabis to treat multiple injuries, including spinal cord injury and disease, and cancer.

Over 700 patients were using cannabis to treat one or more injuries, another 662 were using it to treat the effects of spinal cord injury and 345 were using it as part of their cancer treatment.

Holt said he has been pleasantly surprised with the reaction of New Hampshire’s doctors agreeing to certify patients.

“Still, the number one call we get from patients is that their doctors are not willing or not certifying them for the program,” he said.

A total of 530 doctors and nurse practitioners in New Hampshire have so far certified that patients have a medical condition qualifying them for cannabis. Another 30 health providers in the neighboring states of Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont have done the same.

“I really didn’t know what we were going to see a year in,” Holt said. “Five hundred and sixty, I think is a great start in the first year of a brand new program.”

More providers in Grafton County certified patients than in any other county – 120, compared to 114 in Hillsborough County, which has a much larger population.

Holt said he could not speculate as to why that was, but he pointed out that Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon is located in Grafton County. The hospital is the state’s largest.

“They’re actively involved in the program,” Holt said.

The new report also shows the state’s dispensaries are spending far more money than they’re making. State law requires the three therapeutic cannabis companies are nonprofits.

Sanctuary ATC in Plymouth has so far spent $1.7 million to get up and running and has made $312,678 in product sales. Temescal Wellness has spent $3.9 million and has made a combined $378,419 from its two dispensaries in Lebanon and Dover.

Prime ATC in Merrimack – the last dispensary to open in 2016 – has spent $4.3 million to open and operate, and has so far made $48,217 in sales.

Holt said the start-up costs in opening a dispensary are “huge” because alternative treatment centers also have to construct and operate their own growing facilities.

He added the state was expecting dispensaries would not break even for some time, but could not comment on what the companies financial timetables are.

“We’re not concerned about their viability,” he said.

However, Holt added that DHHS alternative treatment center officials have made it clear they would like to see the number of patients in the state’s program grow further.

“The larger the program, the more sustainable they would be,” he said.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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