Tracknum: 10109.200910291424.n9teoh8w010003 Pubdate: Thu, 29 Oct 2009 Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH) Copyright: 2009 Telegraph Publishing Company Contact: http://www.nashuatelegraph.com Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/885 Author: Kevin Landrigan, Staff Writer Cited: NH Coalition for Common Sense http://nhcommonsense.org/ Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?253 (Cannabis - Medicinal - United States) EFFORT TO OVERRIDE VETO FALLS SHORT CONCORD - The determined opposition of nine state Senate Republicans and one Democrat blocked New Hampshire from becoming one of 14 states that legalized the possession of marijuana by chronically ill patients and their caregivers. Wednesday's 14-10 vote to override Gov. John Lynch's July veto of the bill fell two votes shy of the super-majority needed to defy Lynch's action and pass the bill into law. After three months of private lobbying, no minds were changed as the Senate vote was identical to the one when it sent the measure to Lynch's desk back in May. Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, co-founded the state's first hospice for the terminally ill and pleaded for the bill's survival. "It's up to 16 of us in this chamber to look at those who are suffering to say, I understand and I will help," Gilmour said. But Sen. Robert Letourneau, R-Derry, said any law making marijuana legal for any purpose contradicts society's push to convince the nation's young not to experiment. "This is a terrible message to send to our children," Letourneau said. The leader of NH Coalition for Common Sense, Matt Simon, said he knew that a few senators had told constituents in recent weeks they were capable of making the switch to backing the bill. "You never give up hope, so I'm disappointed. Now I'm not looking forward to making those difficult calls to people depending on the Legislature to relieve their unrelenting pain," Simon said. Sen. Betsi DeVries, D-Manchester, who represents Litchfield, was the only member of her party to oppose it. Sen. John Gallus of Berlin stood out as the only Senate Republican to back it. "I am very disappointed. This is something that, at the end of the day, really helps the people of New Hampshire," Gallus said in a statement. Earlier Wednesday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives had voted to overrode Lynch's July 9 veto, as expected. The 240-115 vote in the House was 10 votes above the override threshold. It marked the first time a legislative body took this confrontational step since Lynch, a popular, three-term Democrat, first became governor in January 2005. Among House Democrats present, 94 percent voted for the bill; while 65 percent of Republicans stood with Lynch, although 57 GOP members were in favor of the veto override. Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster, said supporters carefully addressed all of Lynch's concerns that prompted a conference committee that Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, had led to rewrite the entire bill. "Today we make a decision that will affect the quality of life for many of our sickest citizens," Merrick said. "We have an opportunity to send a very clear message that we have not forgotten our citizens with long, suffering pain." After the Senate setback, Merrick told reporters she will return in 2011 with her bill if she's re-elected. Rep. Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, a former volunteer firefighter, said the bill was well-intentioned but would pose problems for law enforcement. "Legislation which changes a fundamental concept takes time and if we don't take the time necessary to do it right, we find that we must revisit that issue," Jasper said. "If we pass HB 648 over the governor's objection, there may well be serious consequences." The state's fire chiefs had sent an e-mail opposing the bill. "What fireman or policeman or truck driver would feel safe if he went to work in the morning knowing that his colleague was severely medicated?" asked Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem. "I think this is a legitimate objection to this part of the bill." Rep. Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, chairs the House panel on law enforcement matters and is a retired deputy U.S. marshal. No one could be a firefighter or policeman and qualify as a patient who had to suffer from a chronic or wasting disease who experienced either "severe pain, severe nausea or severe vomiting," Shurtleff said. "That individual would not be fit either physically or mentally to perform the duties of a firefighter," he added. Lynch saluted the aims of the sponsors but vetoed the bill due to concerns about cultivation, distribution, the definition of qualified patients and the volume of marijuana available to them. Rep. Anthony DiFruscia, D-Windham, noted that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and New Hampshire's U.S. Attorney John Kacavas last week confirmed the federal government would ignore federal law and not prosecute patients with small amounts of marijuana if they lived in states where medicinal use was legal. "I'm not here to debate what is good and bad with this drug; the reality is it's unenforceable," said DiFruscia, a trial lawyer. "I think the governor in looking at his veto should seriously consider what his duty and responsibility is. Clearly law enforcement does not think this is a bad thing." Critics pointed to California, which has the most loosely enforced, medical marijuana bill in the nation, where the drug is dispensed at dozens of outlets across the state. "Every block has two or three storefronts selling marijuana and the people buying it ... don't look very sick to me," Letourneau remarked. [sidebar] BILL AT A GLANCE Bill No. HB 648 Sponsor: Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster. Description: The original bill would have let patients and designated caregivers have six plants and up to two ounces of useable marijuana to help who have a "debilitating medical condition" as long as it's under the supervision of a physician. Status: Gov. John Lynch vetoed the bill in July. The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to override that veto by a margin of 240-115. The State Senate vote to override was 14-10 in favor, two votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to create law despite a gubernatorial veto. VOTE: A "yes" vote supported the bill and was to override the governor's veto. A "no" vote endorsed the governor's action. Committee recommendation to kill the bill, A "no" opposed that position. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua: Yes Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis: Yes Peter Bragdon, R-Milford: No Sheila Roberge*, R-Bedford: No Sharon Carson*, R-Londonderry: No Betsi DeVries*, D-Manchester: No Michael Downing*, R-Salem: No Robert Letourneau*, R-Derry: No * Roberge's district includes Merrimack, Carson represents Hudson, DeVries has a district that includes Litchfield, Downing represents Pelham and Letourneau's district includes Litchfield.