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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

OK urged for medical use of pot

CONCORD – The Republican domination of the state Legislature would seem to spell doom for the ongoing campaign to legalize medical use of marijuana.

But despite a small turnout, those pressing for the 2011 bill (HB 442) Tuesday included some outspoken conservatives, along with the liberal supporters of legalization, and those looking to relieve their suffering from chronic pain.

Rep. Jennifer Coffey, R-Andover, said government should not interfere with doctors who decide marijuana is the only way for cancer and other disease patients to maintain an appetite and keep their strength during lifesaving treatment.

“What we are asking you to do is let government get out of the way; let what a doctor determines is appropriate for his patient be what rules,” Coffey said.

Sen. Jim Forsythe, R-Strafford, said he became convinced after a physician lobbied him during the campaign last fall.

“This is an issue that cuts across party lines,” Forsythe said.

And first-term Rep. William Panek, R-Farmington, said his mind changed on medical marijuana after contracting Meneire’s disease with vertigo that left him vomiting uncontrollably.

“It’s more of a personal thing to me. I think it’s the right time we start helping people,” Panek said.

Two years ago, lawmakers approved medical marijuana and Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, led an effort to perfect the bill so it would win over Gov. John Lynch.

But ultimately, Lynch vetoed the measure, and it fell two votes shy in the Senate of overriding the Democratic governor.

Matt Simon, a leader in the state’s decriminalization and medical marijuana movement, said Lynch’s move in 2009 crushed the spirits of some supporters.

“A lot of people laid themselves on the line for that bill, and it’s hard to recover from that,” Simon said. “It may speak to the turnout today.”

There are 15 states in the country that permit medical marijuana use.

This comprehensive, 27-page bill would allow qualifying patients to receive up to 2 ounces of marijuana from three-to-five state-regulated dispensaries where it would be safely grown.

But Assistant Attorney General Karin Eckel said efforts to control recreational use in states where it’s given medicinally have failed.

“Most if not all states have failed to keep the recreational use of marijuana out of the medical marijuana equation,” Eckel said, testifying against the bill for Attorney General Michael Delaney.

State Police Maj. Russell Conte noted that one in 33 citizens in Montana have a card entitling them to medicinal marijuana.

This would translate to nearly 40,000 in New Hampshire if this became law, Conte warned.

“This is an extremely troubling bill that would change the face of New Hampshire, but not for the better,” Conte warned.

Health and Human Services administrator John Wallace said the bill could cost $200,000 to start and $75,000 a year for the state to regulate these dispensing outlets.

Nicole Rockwell of Manchester, who uses a wheelchair, suffers from spinal muscular atrophy.

Medical use of marijuana has helped her eat and sleep better, manage her pain and reduce depression.

“Medical marijuana has been a godsend to me,” Rockwell added.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or