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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Medical pot bill faces uphill fight

Telegraph Editorial

Proponents of a medical marijuana law for New Hampshire – and we count ourselves among them – must have been feeling pretty upbeat heading into last week’s Senate vote.

The bill (SB 409) is significantly different from the one that fell only two Senate votes shy of overriding Gov. John Lynch’s veto in 2009. It carries the sponsorship of four Republicans and two Democrats. And it emerged from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee with a healthy 5-0 recommendation last month, including the support of Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, a former critic who chairs the panel.

So you can’t blame them for feeling a little disappointed after the Senate voted Wednesday to endorse the bill, 13-11, one vote fewer than last time and three short of overriding a promised veto.

This doesn’t mean that medical marijuana is necessarily dead this year, of course, but it does raise the odds considerably on enacting such a bill in 2012.

Under the previous bill, qualified patients who had been diagnosed by a physician with a debilitating medical condition would have been eligible to receive up to 2 ounces of marijuana from a state-regulated dispensary.

This time, sponsors ditched the dispensary approach in favor of permitting qualified patients or their caretakers to cultivate and possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana in their homes.

In order to do so, they would have to obtain a registry identification card by first securing written certification from their physician that the marijuana would help treat a debilitating medical condition, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s and some other specified diseases.

The bill – sponsored by Sen. James Forsythe, R-Strafford – is modeled after legislation that became law in neighboring Maine (1999) and Vermont (2004). If passed, New Hampshire would become the 17th state along with the District of Columbia to have some type of medical marijuana law on their books; 17 other states have similar legislation pending.

As was the case in 2009, two Greater Nashua lawmakers voted against the medical marijuana bill: Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, and Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry. They were joined this time by first-term Sen. Jim Luther, R-Hollis.

Conversely, we were pleased to see the open mind demonstrated by first-term Sen. Gary Lambert, R-Nashua, who acknowledged he was opposed to the bill prior to the March 8 hearing.

When the committee reconvened two weeks later to take up the bill, Lambert voted in favor of the bill, after concluding that marijuana has some legitimate medicinal qualities when used to treat those suffering from debilitating diseases.

As we’ve stated previously, this bill isn’t about making marijuana legal for recreational purposes; it’s about providing some relief to thousands of our neighbors who suffer from some terrible diseases or the side effects of heavy-duty drugs needed to treat them.

Nor is the bill experimental. The cannabis plant from which marijuana is derived has been used to treat medical conditions around the world for centuries, dating back to the ancient Greeks and beyond.

At a time when Americans have raised grave concerns about the government getting between patients and their doctors, the time has come to pass sensible medical marijuana legislation – with or without the governor’s support.