by Scott Gacek (originally posted on thedailychronic.net)
CONCORD, NH — The New Hampshire legislature voted 284-66 Wednesday to adopt a medical marijuana compromise bill resulting from successful negotiations last week that reconciled differences between bills passed previously in both chambers, making New Hampshire the final New England state to allow medical marijuana.
“This legislation has been a long time coming and is a much-needed victory for those with serious illnesses who find significant relief in medical marijuana,” said Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied in support of the bill.
“The vast majority of Americans believe people suffering from debilitating conditions should be able to use medical marijuana, and it is time for other states to follow suit,” Simon said. “People suffering from cancer and HIV/AIDS in New York and other states are just as deserving of sensible and compassionate laws as those here in New Hampshire.”
The bill, House Bill 573, allows qualifying patients to obtain medical marijuana from one of four special dispensaries across the state beginning in 2015, abandoning the House’s proposal that patients or their caretakers would be allowed to grow their own marijuana.
Governor Maggie Hassan has said she would sign the bill once passed by both chambers of the legislature, and the bill will become effective with her signature.
“Allowing doctors to provide relief to patients through the use of appropriately regulated and dispensed medical marijuana is the compassionate and right policy for the State of New Hampshire,” Gov. Hassan said in a statement issued last week.
Hassan, who voted in favor of medical marijuana legalization as a state senator in 2009, was against a home cultivation provision initially included in the original bill, citing concerns of law enforcement who said that by allowing patients to grow their own marijuana, it would make regulation difficult and medical marijuana could be diverted to the recreational use black market.
House lawmakers, who approved a version of the medical marijuana bill that included home cultivation of up to three marijuana plants by patients with a veto-proof 286-64 vote in March, agreed to drop the home cultivation provision in exchange for having a medical marijuana oversight commission that will start work as soon as the bill is enacted.
Negotiators from the House gave in to the removal of home cultivation after Senators Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton) and John Reagan (R-Deerfield) said that the bill simply would not become law if it allowed patients to grow their own marijuana.
“We wanted a bill that was going to pass,” Sen. Stiles said. ”‘This is a first step, things can always be added later on.”
Last week’s compromise also saw the number of dispensaries allowed in the state reduced from five to four, and the removal of post-traumatic stress disorder from the list of qualifying conditions.
The bill will become law immediately upon Governor Hassan’s signature. The state Department of Health and Human Services must then licence at least two medical marijuana dispensaries within the first 18 months.
The first medical marijuana dispensaries in New Hampshire are expected to open in 2015.