UPDATED: Stripped-down medical marijuana bill passes Senate panel with no home-grow option
CONCORD — Medical marijuana patients will not be able to grow their own after a Senate committee bowed to Gov. Maggie Hassan’s concerns Tuesday and removed the provisions from the bill.
The Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee did vote 5-0 Tuesday to recommend the Senate pass House Bill 573, which would allow critically ill patients to use marijuana to ease their symptoms.
While the committee decided to strip the bill of the home grow option, supporters of the provision said the bill no longer addresses those in immediate need of help.
Hassan had signaled for some time she was opposed to the home grow provision, although she voted for a bill that contained that option as a state Senator in 2009, but supporters said they were optimistic evidence from home grow states and patients needing immediate relief would convince the governor to change her mind.
“It is shocking and disappointing that the answer is ‘No,’” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Our biggest concern is what the patients (with immediate needs) are going to do now.”
Simon said those patients have three options as they wait years before the Department of Health and Human Services issues rules and begins issuing registration cards: buy marijuana on the illicit market, plant seeds and grown their own although that is a felony, or go on suffering.
“We are willing to make any reasonable compromise in order to meet the immediate needs of seriously ill New Hampshire citizens,” Simon said, suggesting a three-year sunset for the home grow provision until the dispensing centers are operating.
At a press conference after the committee vote, supporters of home grow asked people to contact Hassan and state senators to support the provision so terminal patients receive relief.
Committee chairman Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, said she met with Hassan’s legal counsel Monday and removed sections of the bill the governor could not support including home grow and allowing those with post traumatic stress syndrome to access marijuana.
She said it is important to pass a medical marijuana bill. “We are starting with a small (program) that can expand if we find it does not meet the needs of patients,” Stiles said.
After the vote, Hassan said the bill is improved by the Senate committee’s work..
“The changes to the bill allowing the use of medical marijuana by patients made by Senator Stiles and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee represent significant improvements and help address the governor’s concerns about ensuring appropriate regulation and controlled dispensing,” said Hassan’s communications director Marc Goldberg. “Governor Hassan looks forward to continuing the dialogue with legislators and all stakeholders as the legislation moves forward.”
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, said after the vote, the House will not go along with the Senate changes and a conference committee will have to work out a compromise that she hopes will allow patients with immediate needs to receive treatment.
She acknowledged that Hassan has given no indication she is open to some of the provisions in the House bill that the Senate removed.
Under the bill, a person who qualifies for the program must have both a debilitating disease such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and hepatitis C and conditions such as significant weight loss, severe pain or wasting syndrome. Patients would have to have both the illness and symptoms.
The program would serve only New Hampshire residents and someone would have to be a doctor’s patient for three months before he or she could qualify. Bill drafters say that would end the doctor shopping other states have experienced.
The bill establishes an advisory committee to also make a recommendation to the Legislature if the program should continue after five years.
An affirmative defense provision for patients and care givers registered with the state if they are charged with growing, distributing or possessing marijuana is included in the bill.
An affirmative defense allows someone charged with a crime to argue there are extenuating circumstances that negate the charge.
The Senate version reduces from six to two ounces of marijuana that could be dispensed at one time, and the number of treatment centers from five to four.
And the Senate version requires medical marijuana patients who are renters to receive their landlord’s written permission to use the drug on their premises or a relative’s permission if they are visiting, and also their employers’ permission.
A developer seeking to establish a non-profit to dispense marijuana would need to name a specific location and receive local zoning approval, and obtain liability insurance before a license would be issued.
Devon Chaffee, executive director of the NH Civil Liberties Union, said the Senate changes weaken the bill and will reduce patient access to marijuana.
“There are patients whose doctors have recommended marijuana who have waited several years. They need effective treatment now,” Chaffee said. “They have waited long enough.”
The bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate either May 16 or May 23 and if approved with go to the Senate Finance Committee for review before final passage.
The House approved its version of the bill on a 286-64 vote in March.