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Ron Mitchell: Without legal medical marijuana, I can't return to my NH home

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April 22. 2013 7:05PM

My wife and I currently live in Vermont, but Manchester is our home, and we would very much like to return in 2013. Whether we do depends on whether New Hampshire allows the medical use of marijuana.

I severely injured my back at work in 1987, and since then I have been prescribed every pain medicine you can imagine. As the years passed, I found myself needing more and more pills just to get by. My health was on a downward spiral. By 2009, the pain had gotten so bad that I thought I was going to need to have a morphine pump embedded in my abdomen.

I had never even thought about using medical marijuana. You can imagine my surprise when my doctor, a well-respected pain specialist, suggested I consider trying it. He sincerely believed this plant could reduce my dependence on pain medications and improve my quality of life. Yet to try it would be illegal.

As my condition worsened, I became desperate, so I decided to follow my doctor's advice. A friend was able to find some marijuana for me, and when I gave it a try, I felt a level of comfort and relief I had not experienced in many years.

I was, therefore, elated when the New Hampshire Legislature passed a bill that would have allowed people like me to legally obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes. But that feeling of happiness gave way to despair when it was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch and the effort to override it fell two votes short.

At that point, I felt I had no choice but to move to a state where I would not have to obtain marijuana in an underground market and risk being arrested and labeled a criminal. So I found a small apartment in Vermont, where I qualified for the medical marijuana program. I began growing a small amount of marijuana in my home in accordance with the law.

About four months later, my first harvest was ready, and since then I've had a steady, reliable supply of medical-grade cannabis. It has dramatically improved my quality of life, allowing me to reduce my intake of pain pills from as many as 20 per day to only two per day. I am finally able to get a good night's sleep, and I no longer have to worry about local or state police raiding my house and arresting me.

My wife was able to find a job and join me in Vermont, but she needs to return home to help care for her aging parents. I cannot return, however, until it becomes legal for me to use and grow my own medical cannabis.

We were very encouraged when the House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 573, which would allow patients to grow up to three mature plants in addition to setting up five non-profit, state-regulated dispensaries. It will probably be at least two years after the bill passes before a dispensary is able to open, though. This simply isn't soon enough for me and all the other patients who need medical marijuana now.

Patients in Vermont have been growing their own medical marijuana since 2004, and I have never heard of law enforcement having any real problems with it. In Maine, they have been allowing cultivation since 1999. If a few plants in patients' closets were causing major problems in Maine and Vermont, don't you think we would have heard about it by now?

If this bill does not pass, I cannot return home without putting my health and freedom at risk. Is this the kind of health care system that will best serve the needs of this U.S. Army combat veteran (1971-1973)?

My wife needs to return home to New Hampshire this summer, with or without me, to care for her parents. I would very much like to join her in moving home, but that decision will depend on what happens with HB 573. New Hampshire should not make criminals of patients who want to grow their own limited supply of plants.

Ron Mitchell, formerly of Manchester, lives in White River Junction, Vt.

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