Pubdate: Sun, 18 Mar 2012
Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)
Copyright: 2012 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Matt Simon
Note: Matt Simon, of Goffstown, is a legislative analyst for the 
Marijuana Policy Project of Washington, D.C


Nearly three years have passed since House and Senate lawmakers first 
approved a medical marijuana bill to protect patients with 
debilitating illnesses in New Hampshire. That bill fell just short of 
becoming law in 2009, when an effort to override Gov. John Lynch's 
veto passed the House but failed by only two votes in the Senate. 
When the 2010 election resulted in Republican supermajorities in both 
chambers of the General Court, many felt this issue would be placed 
on hold for two years.

On the contrary, last year the GOP-dominated House showed it wasn't 
at all afraid to pass medical marijuana, voting to approve the 
measure in a 221-96 landslide. Last year's bill reached a stalemate 
in the Senate, when senators voted to table the bill rather than 
casting an up-or-down vote, but this year patients and their 
advocates are feeling more optimistic than ever about their chances.

Their new bill features three Republican senators as sponsors. So 
what objections remain?

First, the attorney general's office points out that marijuana 
remains illegal under federal law and says the program could lead to 
interventions in New Hampshire by federal agents.

Second, it observes that, in a few states, badly implemented medical 
marijuana laws have led to undesirable outcomes. When considering the 
merits of these objections, New Hampshire legislators should focus on 
two very useful counterexamples: Vermont and Maine. Vermont and Maine 
have been protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest since 
2004 and 1999, respectively. There have been no federal raids on 
patients or caregivers in either state, and the laws continue to 
enjoy strong public support.

After years of allowing patients and their caregivers to grow their 
own marijuana, both states recently approved the addition of 
state-regulated dispensaries to improve patients' access. Have these 
reforms led to increased rates of recreational marijuana use and teen 
use in Maine and Vermont? According to government surveys, they have 
not. In fact, the federal government's own data shows that teens and 
adults use marijuana at a nearly identical rate in all three states.

Unfortunately, the U.S. attorney for New Hampshire has indicated that 
dispensaries here would not necessarily be safe from federal 
prosecution. Thus, Granite State lawmakers appear to be left with two 
policy options: they can continue leaving desperate patients to fend 
for themselves on the black market, or they can acknowledge their 
plight and permit them to simply take care of themselves. SB 409 
would protect patients from arrest and give them a way to access 
marijuana safely, legally and unobtrusively. A 2008 Mason-Dixon poll 
showed 71 percent of New Hampshire voters agree, with only 21 percent opposed.

Will 2012 be the year that public opinion finally translates into public policy?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom