Pubdate: Sun, 03 Mar 2013
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2013 Associated Press
Page: B3


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - As New Hampshire again considers whether to 
legalize medical marijuana, neighboring states offer lessons about 
enforcement of the law, dispensaries and the complexities of 
implementing such a law.

The New Hampshire legislature has passed three medical marijuana 
bills in previous years, all vetoed by former Gov. John Lynch. This 
time, Gov. Maggie Hassan's endorsement could tip the scales. Eighteen 
states and the District of Columbia already allow people who are sick 
or in chronic pain to legally buy and use medical marijuana, but laws 
vary widely. Medical marijuana became legal in Massachusetts Jan. 1, 
but state health officials have until May 1 to issue regulations.

A key concern of law enforcement officials in New Hampshire is 
whether legalization would open the door for recreational users and 
people looking to profit from illicit distribution. Regardless of 
illness, marijuana could be used to treat conditions like severe pain 
or nausea, which could create an opening for recreational users to 
take advantage of the law.

But in neighboring Vermont and Maine, where medical marijuana has 
been available for years, police say that has not been their 
experience. In Vermont, policing medical marijuana is "one more thing 
we have to deal with, but it's not overwhelming," state police Lt. 
J.P. Sinclair said.

He said he's aware of only a half-dozen cases of patients or 
caregivers selling excess marijuana illegally since medical uses of 
it were legalized in 2004. Medical marijuana busts are not tallied 
separately from other marijuana crimes, he said, making it difficult 
to give an exact figure.

In Maine, where medical marijuana was approved in 1999, Hallowell 
Police Chief Eric Nason said his department sees burglaries related 
to prescription opiates and other drugs, but not marijuana. His 
department treats a dispensary in town business.

But differences among marijuana laws may make comparisons with other 
states irrelevant, said Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate, who 
opposes such legalization. In Maine, for example, possession of small 
amounts of marijuana for non-medical reasons is only a civil 
infraction, so enforcement is not a high priority, Nason said.

Crate said he sympathizes with doctors and lawmakers that want to 
give terminally ill patients a measure of comfort, but the list of 
permissible conditions in the bill is too broad. He said New 
Hampshire police should not be burdened with distinguishing between 
medical and nonmedical users and legally and illegally grown pot, 
especially since budgets for police work are already spread thin.

Also unlike Vermont and Maine, the New Hampshire bill would allow 
patients with out-of-state medical marijuana cards to purchase from 
dispensaries. That's bound to create challenges of its own, said 
Becky DeKeuster, who operates the Hallowell dispensary and three 
others in Maine.

"There's such a patchwork here, with 18 states plus D.C. having 
different laws regarding possession limits and qualifying conditions 
I wouldn't be comfortable treating patients from other states," she said.

She said her dispensaries keep detailed records of where their 
marijuana is going. Because her business is still at odds with 
federal law that makes marijuana illegal, she said her businesses 
have to be "better than good" about self-regulating.

The New Hampshire proposal would also require those allowed to 
possess the drug to carry a registration card if they have marijuana. 
If they don't, they could be fined and arrested. Caregivers and 
dispensary personnel would need federal background checks and could 
not have prior drug convictions.
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