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Medical marijuana bill to reach NH Senate

By Garrett Brnger
Associated Press / March 27, 2012
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CONCORD, N.H.—Proponents of a medical marijuana bill are trying to line up enough votes for the measure to withstand the governor's likely opposition before it debuts in the New Hampshire Senate.

Two of the bill's sponsors, state Sen. Jim Forsythe, R-Strafford, and state Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster, led a news conference Tuesday to promote their home cultivation approach to medical marijuana. With Gov. John Lynch's historical opposition to medical marijuana bills, supporters are looking for a veto-proof majority in both chambers.

The proposed law would allow patient with "debilitating medical conditions" or their designated caretakers to possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana, six mature plants and 12 seedlings at a single, registered "cultivation location." They could also avoid penalties for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana elsewhere.

The patient would need a registry identification card, which would require written certification from their doctor that medical use of marijuana would help treat a "debilitating medical condition." Qualifying conditions include cancer, HIV, AIDS and post- traumatic stress disorder. Some symptoms or treatment results like severe pain or severe nausea would also qualify.

Patients with a qualifying condition visiting from out of state could also possess marijuana without a card, but not cultivate it.

Caretakers would need a card as well and would be subject to a background check.

Merrick lent her personal experience as a cancer patient to the debate.

"The fact remains it was medical cannabis that proved to be what ultimately gave me the strength to live," said the third-term representative.

Supporters said the bill's home cultivation approach would reduce the risk of abuse or federal prosecution. Caretakers would be volunteers -- most likely family members, they say. The law permits compensation for actual costs like electricity, but not labor, which supporters say eliminates the business aspect.

"We very purposely made this bill so it doesn't have a profit incentive," said Forsythe.

Forsythe said Vermont has similar restrictions to those in the bill and has several hundred patients.

The bill would not legalize marijuana possession for anyone beyond registry identification card holders or visiting qualifying patients. Card holders who provide marijuana to anyone not allowed to have it would have their cards revoked and face a class B felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison. Additional penalties for illegal marijuana sale would also apply.

The proposed law also would expire after three year unless lawmakers acted to renew it.

The bill is coming before the Senate on Wednesday with the Health and Human Services Committee's unanimous support, including that of Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley. Both chambers would need a two-thirds majority to pass the bill over a near-certain veto by the governor.

Lynch vetoed a medical marijuana bill in 2009 to establish three dispensaries to provide severely ill patients with 2 ounces of marijuana every 10 days, citing his concerns over cultivation and the possible availability of the drug beyond the dispensaries. Although the House voted to override his veto, the Senate fell two votes short.

Another medical marijuana bill last year passed the House but died in the Senate after Lynch promised a veto. He has also said he will veto a decriminalization bill that narrowly passed the House this month.

Although Lynch spokesman Colin Manning said the governor's position is unchanged, Merrick said she is still hopeful for a change of heart.

"I am going to anticipate the governor will realize this is not about the legalization of marijuana but that it is a medical matter for the sickest and neediest patients," said Merrick.

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