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Friday, March 8, 2013

House committee backs medical marijuana 14-1; full House to vote next week

CONCORD – The near-perennial campaign to legalize medical use of marijuana got off to its best start ever with the 14-1 endorsement from a key House committee Thursday.

The biggest change inside a 26-page rewrite on the issue was a marketing one, dubbing it “therapeutic cannabis” at the urging of the state’s medical lobby that remains opposed to the bill. ...

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CONCORD – The near-perennial campaign to legalize medical use of marijuana got off to its best start ever with the 14-1 endorsement from a key House committee Thursday.

The biggest change inside a 26-page rewrite on the issue was a marketing one, dubbing it “therapeutic cannabis” at the urging of the state’s medical lobby that remains opposed to the bill.

“I’m perfectly fine with it. I don’t care if we call it pretzels as long as it gets this in the hands of those with debilitating illness who really need it,” said Matt Simon who is the state’s legislative lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project.

After years of being neutral on the issue, the New Hampshire Medical Society’s opposition to this year’s edition stunned supporters and they’re trying to alter the bill to get the doctors’ lobby to drop that position.

During an executive session today, State Rep. Patrick Culbert, R-Pelham, gave emotional testimony to his colleagues about his wife, Judy, who succumbed to a long bout with cancer. Medication did not reduce the pain that had her vomiting at times for four years and near constantly during the last six weeks of her life, Culbert said.

“She smoked marijuana one time and she was out of pain for four days,” Culbert recalled.

While he offered to get it illegally, she did not try it again for fear of being arrested, he said.

“People like Judy shouldn’t have to die like that. She should have died with dignity and she didn’t,” Culbert concluded.

The vote of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee sends the bill (HB 573) to the full House for a vote next week.

Since 2007, the Legislature under Republican and Democratic control have twice passed this law to have New Hampshire join 18 states and the District of Columbia that allow for medical use of marijuana. But then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed both of them.

New Gov. Maggie Hassan supported the legislation as a state senator and repeated support for the concept while saying she wants to make certain only clearly-defined patients get the drug and it’s dispensed under a tight state regulatory system.

This bill would not only dispense marijuana through five state-licensed centers but allow patients or caregivers to grow up to three of their own plants at home.

“This overwhelming showing of legislative support provides great relief to many seriously ill patients and their families, who have been waiting years for medical marijuana to become legal in New Hampshire,” Simon said. “Patients whose doctors recommend they use marijuana to treat their conditions should not have to live in fear of arrest in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state. It is uplifting to see such a strong majority of legislators on this committee demonstrate their support for patients’ rights.”

State officials say they will need to hire two staff to manage this program that will cost $200,000 in the first year and about $135,000 a year after the start up.

Rep. Stephen Schmidt, R-Wolfeboro, led the latest rewrite effort that added chronic pancreatitis to the list of eligible illnesses after a constituent appealed for its inclusion.

“We hope the end result of this bill will provide an opportunity for those who really need it to get it and protect the citizens of New Hampshire from the concerns expressed by local law enforcement and public safety,” Schmidt said.

The changes included creating a robust oversight commission that every year will be able to recommend how the law should be adjusted, he added.

Obtaining marijuana for any purpose even with this bill remains in violation of federal law.

“Everyone should clearly understand. No one is safe from federal prosecution,” Rep. Schmidt said.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at
321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com . Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).