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  • A bud of legally grown marijuana is held by a cancer patient in Portland, Maine.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Medicinal marijuana advocates fighting for support to pass law

CONCORD – Supporters are fighting for veto-proof support in the Legislature for a bill that would supply medical marijuana to the seriously ill.

The bill, SB 409, goes before the state Senate on Wednesday. It was crafted after laws in Maine and Vermont that allow limited home cultivation for patients with an exclusive caregiver.

“We are working for a veto-proof majority and are on our way with the unanimous vote of the Senate committee,” said Sen. Jim Forsythe, R-Stafford, the bill’s prime author.

The plan would limit the drug to a physician-certified patient who suffered a qualifying, debilitating condition that includes cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, severe nausea and severe, persistent muscle spasms.

Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster, is a cancer survivor. She said using marijuana while in recovery from chemotherapy treatments was life-saving for her.

She has been the Statehouse face of the movement for the past six years.

“Over the years, people opposed to it have been because of their preconceived notions about marijuana,” Merrick said.

Advocates have dropped compassion care centers included in previous plans, where patients could have bought marijuana legally.

Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, cited that as one of his concerns in vetoing legislation in 2009, a decision the Legislature sustained that year.

Lynch remains opposed to the bill because it runs counter to federal law, which prohibits the possession and use of marijuana, said Colin Manning, Lynch’s press secretary.

“The governor raised concerns about lack of regulation for distribution, and this is even less restrictive,” Manning said. “Six ounces is a lot of pot to have access to, and that’s why he’d veto this bill, too.”

Rep. Phil Greazzo, R-Manchester, went from leading the fight against decriminalizing possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana to embracing this proposal.

“Why should the government tell you what medicine you can take?” he said.

This bill limits patients to possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana and to cultivate up to six mature plants and 12 seedlings.

“We are trying hard to keep the profit motive out of this,” Forsythe said.

There are 16 states with some form of medical marijuana laws, and the two most recent – Rhode Island and Michigan – permit 12 plants, said Matt Simon, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC.

“This is a bill well in the mainstream and more regulated than most states,” he said.

The amended bill adds a sunset provision that would end the program after three years unless the Legislature voted to reauthorize it.

Forsythe said this is a turning-point year for an effort he’s convinced will eventually prevail.

At least seven Senate Republicans have come on board, Forsythe said, including Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.

“This will be the turning year. We have broken the party lines,” said Forsythe, who is not seeking re-election this fall. “It will pass this year or next year.’’

Ted Wright of Tuftonboro said his wife who was suffering from Stage 4 breast cancer had lost 32 pounds and was anorexic.

“Out of desperation, she tried marijuana, and it was amazing how it changed her overnight,’’ Wright said. “She went from throwing up to sitting at the dinner table.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.