Pubdate: Sun, 21 Jul 2013
Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)
Copyright: 2013 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Danielle Curtis


Editor's note: New Hampshire will become the 19th state to allow some
form of medical marijuana with Gov. Maggie Hassan's signature. The
Telegraph's six-day series, Cannabis Care, examines New Hampshire's
therapeutic marijuana legislation and how the law will work, including
who can get the drug, how much it will cost, and what needs to happen
before the first batch of marijuana is legally distributed in the state.

When Gov. Maggie Hassan signs the state's therapeutic marijuana
legislation into law, it will immediately become legal to use the drug
to treat the debilitating symptoms of some illnesses.

However, there won't be any legal way to for people to obtain and use
marijuana as medicine for at least two years. And patients who choose
to get their pot illegally won't have any legal protection.

"At this point, it's hard to say when a patient will be able to go
into a center and purchase therapeutic cannabis; a lot needs to happen
before that happens," said Michael Holt, rules coordinator for the
state Department of Health and Human Services. "Is there any kind of
immediate relief or action for current users or prospective users? The
answer is no."

But while patients may be left waiting for such protections, time
won't be spent idly by the state. In fact, work to get the program off
the ground - a timeline for which is laid out clearly in the law -
will begin immediately after Hassan's signature meets paper.

First on the list of things to do: create the Therapeutic Use of
Cannabis Advisory Council, made up of 15 representatives from the
House, Senate, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of
Safety, Office of the Attorney General, and various members of the
medical field.

That council will be responsible for helping to implement the state's
therapeutic marijuana program, provide oversight for its
effectiveness, and generate feedback from patients, reporting data to
the state annually.

The council is required to meet within 45 days after the bill becomes

And the state's Department of Health and Human Services has its own
job to do once the law is on the books  drafting and adopting
administrative rules to run the medical marijuana program within the
next year.

The rules will determine the form and process for issuing patient
registry identification cards, the process for approving and denying
these applications, and the fees associated with the process.

Legal protections for current medical marijuana users supplied by the
law are incumbent upon the completion of these rules, Holt said.

Without the adopted rules, no registry cards can be issued to patients
  and without the cards, patients will not be protected from law
enforcement if found with marijuana in their possession.

It's a situation that many medical marijuana advocates have criticized
and a piece of the legislation that was debated by the House and Senate.

In the end, said Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, the bill's prime
sponsor, legislators passed the bill without additional patient
protections because they knew Hassan wouldn't support it.

Holt said the DHHS rules have not yet been written, and he could not
comment on whether they could be completed sooner than the one-year

But he said once the rules are adopted, patients should begin
receiving registry cards almost immediately. Under the law, the DHHS
must respond to applications for registry cards within 15 days of
their receipt.

Six months after the rules are required to be adopted, the department
must complete another set of rules, this time managing how the state's
therapeutic marijuana dispensaries, called "alternative treatment
centers" under the law, are selected and set up.

Once those rules are in place, Holt said, the department can begin
accepting and approving applications from companies interested in
setting up and running a dispensary. When those dispensaries actually
open, he said, is dependent on the companies themselves.

"They have to get their businesses up and running," he said. "The law
doesn't require any mandatory time frame for them to start providing
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