NH medical marijuana advocates push for home-grow

Morgan True, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Medical marijuana advocates in New Hampshire appealed to Gov. Maggie Hassan on Tuesday, urging her to support a provision allowing patients to grow marijuana at home, saying it's crucial to ensuring immediate access for terminally ill patients.

Hassan called several lawmakers last week to make clear she wouldn't sign a medical marijuana bill with a home-grow provision, citing concerns about the state's ability to regulate such operations.

Despite her having voiced those concerns throughout this legislative session, marijuana policy reform advocate Matt Simon said he was shocked and disappointed that Hassan did not come around, especially after she met with sick patients who told her they will not live long enough to benefit from a dispensary-only model.

The Senate Health Education and Human Services Committee on Tuesday passed a rewritten version of the medical marijuana proposal striking the home-grow provision and making other changes requested by the governor.

Among the changes it makes are removing PTSD from the list of approved conditions and decreasing the number of dispensaries sanctioned from five to four. It would also require patients to have a state-issued ID card to invoke the affirmative defense clause meant to protect medical users from being arrested and convicted for marijuana crimes.

In a statement, Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg called the Senate changes a "significant improvement," adding that they help address the governor's desire to ensure appropriate regulation and controlled dispensing.

Rep. Donna Slachman, the bill's House sponsor, was more sanguine about the Governor's position, saying having her on record in support of medical marijuana is still a plus.

"I think that's critically important. We know we're going to pass something," said the Exeter Democrat. "Right now our biggest concern is whether we're passing something that meets the needs of patients, who, as you've heard, have been waiting a long time for legal access."

It will take the state close to a year to write the regulations for dispensaries, and could take another year or more for them to begin operations. In New Jersey, which has a dispensary-only model, it has taken several years and only one dispensary has opened. That location is struggling to keep up with the demands of more than 700 patients, leading to waiting periods of two months or more.

Schlachman and Simon suggested including a sunset clause in the home-grow provision, allowing patients to grow their own plants for a few years to see if it creates a problem for law enforcement.

Schlachman said she will continue to push for the bill as it came out of her committee in the House. If the Senate passes its version of the bill, she will ask that it be brought to a committee of conference, where she said she is hopeful the two sides can reach a compromise.