Pubdate: Wed, 24 Jun 2009
Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)
Copyright: 2009 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Dana Smith, Staff Writer


People with debilitating conditions who use pot as medicine may
finally see the threat of criminal charges go up in smoke, as the
state's altered medical marijuana bill is expected to receive a final
review in the Legislature today.

The changes a conference committee made to the bill will be put to the
test, as a vote to approve the new language of the bill is scheduled
in the New Hampshire House and Senate, before being sent for final
endorsement from Gov. John Lynch.

The original bill passed in both the House and the Senate before Lynch
told members of the House he would veto it if there weren't changes
made. The most important alteration was the regulation of patients
cultivating their own marijuana.

Lynch created a seven-member committee to try to fix some of the

Committee members used similar wording to the bill already enacted in
Rhode Island, which added "compassion centers" to their existing
policy of allowing patients to cultivate their own marijuana.

"We don't always do what other states do," said Rep. Cindy Rosenwald,
D-Nashua, who took part in the redrafting of the bill. "Really the
goal of this from the beginning was to have a very limited restricted
program that had no opportunity for diversion. We came to feeling that
the centralized model would have much better control then allowing it
to be grown at home."

The new bill, which allows patients to carry up to 2 ounces of pot,
would create three compassion centers throughout New Hampshire that
would grow, cultivate and distribute all of the marijuana being
dispensed for patients throughout New Hampshire, instead of letting
patients or their caregivers grow it themselves.

"I think that we crafted a very tight piece of legislation here," said
Rep. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst. "I really don't think it opens up
recreation use to anyone in any fashion. It provides for the people
who really need it and who are truly ill."

If Lynch signs the bill, there is a provision for annual reports from
the Department of Health and Human Services about the effectiveness
and accessibility of medical marijuana. If officials find after two
years they need more access for patients to marijuana, then they can
create up to two more compassion centers for increased

"I think it's a better piece of legislation than I have ever seen on
the subject," said Rosenwald. "Those who worry that it is a foot in
the door to decriminalization or broadening access should really read
the bill. There is no opportunity to expand who should have access to

The committee also fixed several other concerns that Lynch had with
the bill, including funding for the program, allowing HHS to do
background checks on potential caregivers, and creating a concrete
definition of what constitutes debilitating medical conditions.

"It was a very experienced committee who are committed to the well
being of the state," said Chandley. "We can follow their lead and
realize that this is a good bill for New Hampshire."

There has still been some resistance to the bill from senators and
members of the House.

"I don't think some of the people that are going to be voting on these
even care about the person," said Rep. Jordan Ulery, R-Hudson. "It's a
way of them trying to show that they are caring about sick people. But
you vote for a bill because it is good or bad. You don't vote for it
to gain power, prestige or influence, and unfortunately I think some
of that is taking place."

Other opponents of the bill cite the stigma surrounding drug

"I just have a problem with the fact that marijuana is illegal," said
Rep. Carolyn Gargasz, R-Hollis. "I am very concerned that marijuana is
very accepted and that people see nothing wrong with using it."

But advocates of the bill expect at the least some

"We know that some people are against it, period, and will never vote
for it," said Matt Simon, from the New Hampshire Coalition for Common
Sense Marijuana Policy. "But others really see this as a good thing.
There has been a significant swing in public perception and its time
to help those people who need it."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr