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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cannabis Care: New Hampshire’s law is one of the strictest in the country

By DANIELLE CURTIS

Staff Writer

If you have glaucoma, cancer, or multiple sclerosis, don’t go running to the medical marijuana dispensary just yet.

New Hampshire’s medicinal marijuana legislation is one of the strictest in the nation, and a diagnosis of one of the qualifying conditions may not be enough. The law also stipulates that patients who suffer from debilitating symptoms as a result of their condition may only use marijuana after they have not responded to other, more traditional, forms of treatment. ...

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If you have glaucoma, cancer, or multiple sclerosis, don’t go running to the medical marijuana dispensary just yet.

New Hampshire’s medicinal marijuana legislation is one of the strictest in the nation, and a diagnosis of one of the qualifying conditions may not be enough. The law also stipulates that patients who suffer from debilitating symptoms as a result of their condition may only use marijuana after they have not responded to other, more traditional, forms of treatment.

That requirement makes New Hampshire’s law different from many other states that provide legal medical marijuana. And the legislation’s key sponsor, Donna Schlachman, said the difference really comes down to one word: and.

“The New Hampshire Medical Society worked with the House subcommittee very closely on the definitions and eligibility requirements,” she said. “They are one of the strong reasons the law said ‘and’ instead of ‘or’. They were concerned with it being too wide open.”

Originally, Schlachman said, the eligibility requirements outlined in the legislation required that a patient suffer from a qualifying condition, or from a debilitating illness that has produced one of several symptoms, from wasting syndrome to severe pain, that has not responded to other treatments.

Turning the “or” into “and,” Schlachman said, makes the law much stricter.

Dr. Travis Harker, president of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said it was a change that the medical community was pushing for.

“We tried to help limit the scope to what we thought would be a safe and appropriate group, and limit the number of diagnoses eligible,” he said.

In Oregon, he said, where the system runs like that proposed in New Hampshire’s law, with fewer restrictions, 55,000 patients are currently using medical marijuana.

While he could not estimate how many people may become eligible for the therapeutic treatment in New Hampshire, he said it would be far fewer.

The medical society also played a role in one of the most controversial changes to the marijuana legislation: removing PTSD from the list of qualifying medical conditions.

While veterans groups in the state were angered by the decision to leave it out of the law, Harker said treatment for the condition relies heavily on cognitive behavioral therapy, which could be interrupted if a patient is using medical marijuana to dampen their anxiety.

Still, while the state’s law may be narrower than others in the nation, the conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana do not differ greatly from those allowed in other states, particularly in New England.

Every other New England state already has a medical marijuana law on the books, in varying stages of implementation.

Each law lists specific illnesses eligible for medical marijuana treatment: cancer, multiple sclerosis, ALS, hepatitis C and Crohn’s disease, among others.

Massachusetts makes Parkinson’s disease patients eligible – an illness not included in New Hampshire’s law – while Maine recently added PTSD to its list of qualifying illnesses.

It’s New Hampshire’s requirement that these patients also see severe symptoms not managed with other medications that sets it apart.

In the other states, an illness presenting such symptoms is listed simply as another qualifying condition.

If Schlachman had her way, the Granite State legislation wouldn’t have been quite so strict.

The illnesses eligible for therapeutic marijuana have changed over the past several years of trying to pass the bill, she said.

While spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries were added in, PTSD and a chronic pain condition called RSD were not included.

But the law does give doctors and patients some leeway. Under the legislation, the Department of Health and Human Services may make a patient eligible, on a case by case basis, for a condition not listed, based on the written request of a medical provider.

And Schlachman said she’s confident that as the law is put into practice, and doctors and policymakers become more familiar with it, additional diagnoses will be added over time.

“It’s baby steps,” she said. “We’re getting something going, making sure it works. I expect we’ll go back and tweak things over time.”

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also follow Curtis
on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).