Medical marijuana bill up for debate in N.H. Senate hearings

Posted Apr 9, 2013 by Yukio Strachan
To legalize or not to legalize medical marijuana? That's the question New Hampshire lawmakers will debate in Senate hearings on Thursday.
Smoking Marijuana
Smoking a marijuana cigarette
Photo by Chmee2
‘‘The intent of this legislation is to assist a very small minority of New Hampshire citizens who are suffering terribly from cancer, other terminal illnesses and debilitating diseases,’’ Rep. Stephen Schmidt, a Wolfeboro Republican and member of the committee that drafted the bill, said.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Donna Schlachman, an Exeter Democrat, limits the program to patients suffering significant weight loss, severe pain and other symptoms as a result of cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pancreatitis or post-traumatic stress disorder. The legislation would affect only about 600 to 800 residents.
The New Hampshire House approved the bill last month. It is the fourth time in six years such a medical marijuana bill has won House approval, WMUR-TV reported.
The bipartisan vote of 286-64 gave the bill a veto-proof majority in the House. This is a big win for New Hampshire advocates of medical marijuana. Similar bills have passed the Legislature twice in the last four years, but both times were vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch; a third was killed in the Senate.
Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley said he believes a medical marijuana bill has enough support to pass in the Senate, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Bradley did caution the House version would likely be sent back with significant changes from the Senate.
If the approved bill makes it through the New Hampshire Senate, newly elected Governor Maggie Hassan said a tightly regulated medical marijuana program would have her support. The most recent measure would sanction five marijuana dispensaries and allow patients or caregivers to grow up to three plants for medical use.
Hassan, who does not support changing marijuana laws beyond its medical use, said her concern is any legislation that would allow patients or caregivers to grow marijuana, instead of obtaining it from a licensed dispensary.
“My preference would be that we start with tight prescribing definitions and (a) dispensary,” Hassan told the Monitor last month.
‘‘We think we've got a bill here that is among the most tightly controlled in the nation. This bill will ensure that only – and I emphasize the word ‘only’ – those people that are terminally or severely disabled or chronically ill will be able to obtain medical marijuana,’’ Schmidt said.
At the federal level, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, making distribution of marijuana a federal offense. Schedule I substances are considered to have a high potential for dependency and no accepted medical use.
Rep. John Cebrowski, R-Bedford, argued that legalizing medical marijuana sends the wrong message to young people that marijuana isn’t harmful, according to the Boston Globe. Also, he said, growing and smoking marijuana is not an exact science and better pharmaceutical alternatives exist.
‘‘It would be terribly naive on our part not to realize that scope creep from medical use to full blown legalization of marijuana is the underlying agenda as has been proven in other states,’’ Cebrowski said.
Most Americans back legalizing marijuana
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, making the Golden State the first in the union to allow for the medical use of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Since then, 17 more states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws, for a total of 18 states and the District of Columbia, the online site says.
In November, residents in Washington and Colorado voted to fully legalize the drug, making them the first U.S. states to legalize the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational use.
And the number may soon grow. A poll last week showed for the first time that most Americans backed legalizing marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning.