Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jul 2009
Source: Concord Monitor (NH)
Copyright: 2009 Monitor Publishing Company


Gov. John Lynch closed the door on the legal use of medical marijuana
this month when he vetoed a bill that would have made New Hampshire
the 14th state to legalize its use - but he didn't lock it. His veto
message ended with regret that he couldn't sign the bill into law.

The governor claims that the bill, despite monumental efforts by
lawmakers to revise it to meet his concerns, still contains too many
flaws. Since the law would be the toughest of any state that sanctions
the use of medical marijuana, those concerns are almost certainly overblown.

The House, which is not expected to convene again until fall, passed
the bill by a vote of 232-108. It could almost certainly vote to
override Lynch's veto and it should. But an override by the Senate,
which approved the bill by a 14-10 vote, is hardly assured. Patients
suffering from chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, the effects of
chemotherapy and other medical conditions that can be alleviated by
the use of marijuana and their advocates should work to win over more
senators. To the extent that Lynch is worried about the political
ramifications of signing a marijuana bill, that would get him off the

Patients and their advocates should also strive to provide Lynch the
assurances he needs and amend it further if necessary. The alternative
is needless suffering, and the misguided branding as criminals of
people forced to break the law to ease their pain.

Congress has not approved the use of medical marijuana but U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder said he would only sanction prosecution
if patients or distribution centers sell the drug to people who have
not been certified to possess it. The checks contained in the New
Hampshire bill make that unlikely to happen.

The first version of the bill would have set up a system similar to
those used in states that allow certified patients to cultivate and
possess small amounts of marijuana. The alternative is to allow
patients to purchase marijuana at licensed facilities. Lynch prefers
the latter approach, and the bill was rewritten to allow up to five
nonprofit "compassion centers" to dispense up to two ounces of the
drug to each patient over 10 days.

Lynch believes that dosage may be too high. Some states allow less,
others more. In some cases a few grams of marijuana per day in several
cigarettes may be enough to rekindle appetites suppressed by
chemotherapy or relieve pain. In other cases, effective dosages are
much higher. The handful of patients in the National Institute on Drug
Abuse's Compassionate Investigational Drug Program use from four
ounces to roughly a pound per month. Lynch and lawmakers should set a
limit high enough to be effective with most patients, then amend the
law later as evidence merits.

Distribution centers in some states charge between $300 and $600 per
ounce for the drug, or roughly the street price of illegal marijuana.
If New Hampshire's compassion centers sell the drug cheaply enough,
they could be a good, and more controlled, alternative to allowing
patients to grow marijuana themselves. There's no reason that the drug
should cost patients, or insurers, as much per year as an expensive
prescription medication.

Innumerable drugs, both illicit and prescription, are far more
dangerous, and abused much more often, than marijuana. A vote for its
legalization is a vote for compassion. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr