By Morgan True
---- — CONCORD — New Hampshire advocates of medical marijuana won overwhelming support yesterday in the House for a bill that would sanction five marijuana dispensaries and allow patients or caregivers to grow up to three plants for medical use.
The bipartisan vote of 286-64 marked the fourth time in six years such a medical marijuana bill has won House approval. Two previous measures were vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch; a third was killed in the Senate.
“The intent of this legislation is to assist a very small minority of New Hampshire citizens who are suffering terribly from cancer, other terminal illnesses and debilitating diseases,” Rep. Steve Schmidt, R-Wolfeboro, said.
The vote spread gives the bill a veto-proof majority in the House, although Gov. Maggie Hassan has said, and repeated yesterday, that she supports a tightly regulated medical marijuana program. Hassan said her concern is over the state’s ability to regulate a home-grown option.
Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley said earlier in the week he believes a medical marijuana bill has enough support in the Senate, but the House version would likely be sent back with significant changes. The most recent measure to pass the Senate allowed for patients to grow the plant at home and did not provide for any dispensaries.
Schmidt, a member of the committee that drafted the bill, said the legislation would affect only about 600 to 800 residents. Under the measure, patients would have to show they have a qualifying illness and corresponding symptoms as well as a relationship of at least three months with a provider. Some qualifying illnesses include: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV virus or AIDS, Hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and PTSD.
In addition, patients would have to have tried and not responded to other treatments. No one with a felony or drug conviction could be a caregiver or dispensary employee.
“We think we’ve got a bill here that is among the most tightly controlled in the nation,” Schmidt said.
Rep. John Cebrowski, R-Bedford, argued that legalizing medical marijuana sends the wrong message to young people that marijuana isn’t harmful. Also, he said, growing and smoking marijuana is not an exact science and better pharmaceutical alternatives exist.
“It would be terribly naive on our part not to realize that scope creep from medical use to full blown legalization of marijuana is the underlying agenda as has been proven in other states,” Cebrowski said.
Recently, the House has shown a willingness to relax marijuana laws. Matt Simon with the Marijuana Policy Project noted that a bill to legalize pot garnered 112 House votes earlier this year, although it did not pass.
This month, the House also plans to take up legislation that would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Marijuana is decriminalized in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island; similar legislation is under consideration in Vermont. Those states all have medical marijuana laws as well.
Hassan has said she does not support changing marijuana laws beyond its medical use.
A House committee also is to study further a bill to tax and regulate marijuana. Lawmakers are hoping to learn from such systems in Washington and Colorado before taking action.