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Slow approach to Cannabis is right

At The Telegraph, we are committed to identifying issues important to our readers and then taking the time to investigate them with the goal of increasing public understanding and highlighting solutions.

We have explored the rising costs of higher education with our series “Degrees of Debt.” We have examined student athletic injuries in our series “Broken Athletes.” We have delved into the devastating abuse of prescription drugs in our series “Addiction Epidemic.”

On Saturday we concluded our latest in-depth series “Cannabis Care” – a six-day examination of New Hampshire’s legalization of therapeutic marijuana signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

As part of the series readers learned that a key concern of law enforcement, that any legalization would open the door for recreational use, isn’t a problem in the neighboring states of Vermont and Maine, both of which have allowed medical marijuana for years.

It’s “one more thing we have to deal with, but it’s not overwhelming,” said Vermont State Police Lt. J.P. Sinclair.

Readers learned the compelling story of Clayton Holton, a 28-year-old Rochester man born with muscular dystrophy who fought for seven years to see New Hampshire approve a therapeutic marijuana law. He expects to die before the first dispensary opens.

The reason for this, Telegraph readers learned, is because it will take at least two years to get the needed infrastructure in place and operating. The state has to establish a 15-member advisory council and the state Department of Health and Human Services has to adopt administrative rules to run the medical marijuana program, addressing issues like how to issue patient identification cards, process patient applications and assess fees associated with the process.

Readers learned that these tasks tripped up other states. New Jersey is two-and-a-half years into its medical marijuana program and has yet to open its first dispensary. “Our system slid from dysfunctional to total failure,” said Ken Wolski, who heads a 10-year-old nonprofit called The Coalition of Medical Marijuana-New Jersey.

Followers of the series know New Hampshire has the strictest therapeutic marijuana law in the country. It stipulates that patients who suffer from an accepted debilitation may only use marijuana after they have not responded to other, more traditional, forms of treatment. Conditions allowed in other states are not allowed in New Hampshire such as Parkinson’s disease and post traumatic stress syndrome.

Perhaps the biggest difference between here and other states is that New Hampshire patients can’t grow their own marijuana. That was a last-minute restriction forced by Gov. Maggie Hassan with help from law enforcement officials who did not want that complicating level of enforcement.

The series also explained that there is very little scientific evidence about how and why marijuana affects people. “The research stands in a very preliminary place. There’s no medication on earth with this (low) level of research that would get by the (Food and Drug Administration),” said Dr. Alan Budney, a professor of psychiatry at the Geisel School.

New Hampshire’s fledgling therapeutic marijuana law is a cautious first step. In light of the experiences of other states, that’s likely to improve its chances for success. It is a far wiser course to start slow and achieve success, than attempt to do too much too fast and fail.

That may not comfort those who will not benefit from the law, but in the long run New Hampshire’s approach will likely serve the greater good.