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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Recurring issues 
on 2014 agenda

State House Bureau

September 21. 2013 11:02PM

The state's new medical marijuana law is barely two months old and changes are already being proposed in bills that will be introduced in the 2014 legislative session.

One change was predictable: a proposal to allow patients who qualify for the program to grow their own marijuana. A home-grow provision would give immediate relief to patients suffering from the effects of chemotherapy and to people who are chronically or terminally ill, said the proposed bill's sponsor, Rep. Donald Wright, R-Moultonborough. He was also a co-sponsor of House Bill 573, which was signed into law by Gov. Maggie Hassan on July 23.

Hassan opposed the home-grow provision in the House-passed bill. The Senate, wishing to see some form of medical marijuana pass, bowed to her wishes and removed it.

As it stands, patients will have to wait for a year or more for four regional dispensaries to be established before marijuana will be available.

The dispensaries cannot open until the Department of Health and Human Services develops rules for the program.

Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project said he hopes the department has a good start on rule making, and he expects a report when the Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Advisory Council holds its first meeting, Thursday at 2 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building.

Simon said his organization would support Wright's bill to allow patients to grow their own marijuana.

"Certainly that became a controversial part of the bill this year, and no one wanted to sacrifice the entire bill and risk not passing anything," Simon said. "It made sense to bring it back as a stand-alone bill and see if it passes."

Wright, whose wife has had breast cancer for more than 20 years and benefited greatly from marijuana when she was in a clinical drug trial, is also proposing some "housekeeping changes."

"I've had some conversations with law enforcement, and one thing was the bill allowed someone to purchase 2 ounces of marijuana every 10 days," Wright said. "That seems like it could be excessive, so we would draw that out to 30 days, like most other states."

Another concern when the bill passed was the restrictions on the dispensaries, particularly the need for liability insurance, which may be very difficult to obtain.

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First Filed: Two weeks ago, House members were able to begin filing requests to draft bills, which signals the start of the 2014 session.

The first LSR, as they are called, was a request to repeal the state's death penalty law.

Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, filed the bill request. Cushing has long advocated eliminating the death penalty.

Most recent attempts to repeal the death penalty have failed, particularly after Michael Addison was given the death penalty for murdering Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006.

The death penalty statute was expanded to include murder committed during a home invasion after Kimberly Cates of Mont Vernon was murdered and her daughter badly injured by four teenagers who picked their home at random to kill whoever was inside.

Former House Speaker Bill O'Brien, also of Mont Vernon, was the prime sponsor of the bill, which sailed through the House and Senate and was signed by then-Gov. John Lynch.

Cushing opposes the death penalty even though his father, Robert Cushing, was gunned down by off-duty Hampton Police Officer Robert McLaughlin Jr. on June 1, 1988, when Cushing opened the door to his home.

McLaughlin, along with his wife, Susan, who was convicted of being an accessory to murder, were both sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1989.

About a decade ago, a bill to repeal the death penalty passed both the House and the Senate, but then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed it, and lawmakers failed to override the veto.

Hassan said during her gubernatorial campaign she opposes capital punishment as a "matter of personal conscience and faith," but has not said she would support repealing the current law.

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Red Mass: People often pray that their legislators will do the right thing.

Well, at The Red Mass on Oct. 15 at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Manchester, lawmakers will have the opportunity to pray that their fellow legislators will do the right thing. The Mass starts at 5:15 p.m.

The Mass is offered for those engaged in making law, enforcing law, administering law or judging according to the law.

Lord knows lawmakers need all the prayer and help they can get.

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Anthem in Hot Seat: Anthem officials were in the hot seat last week when they explained their new Pathway network, which consists of 16 of the state's 26 hospitals and their physician practices.

Anthem NH's president, Lisa Guertin, had no sooner finished her presentation when the questions came from senators whose districts had hospitals not included in the company's narrow network developed to keep premium costs down for health insurance exchange customers.

The first question came from Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, who wanted to know why Anthem's network included the one Nashua hospital that does not provide full reproductive services for women instead of the one that does.

The Pathway network includes St. Joseph's Hospital, a Catholic facility that does not perform abortions, and not Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, which does.

Guertin told Lasky there are hospitals within 20 miles that are in the network that do offer full reproductive services for women. That would have to be Elliot Hospital in Manchester because the for-profit Parkland Medical Center in Derry is not in the network, and Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, which is of course Catholic and opposed to abortions, but is in the Pathway program.

Next up was Sen. Bob Odell, R-Lempster, whose district is bordered by three hospitals not in the network, those in Peterborough, Concord and Claremont.

He noted the North Country was able to have two hospitals originally outside the network included after political pressure was brought to bear.

"I would not characterize what we did as caving to political pressure," Guertin said, but she said if more hospitals were added to the network now, some currently in it might very well decide not to participate, and "the whole thing would blow up."

Sen. David Pierce, D-Hanover, who represents many towns in Sullivan County, noted it was the only county not to have any hospital in Anthem's network.

"I hope you hear how frustrated as a group all senators are in this," said Sen. Andy Sandborn, R-Bedford. "We're all extremely disappointed."

And so it went for about an hour.

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