CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — The Senate today added three members to a "committee of conference" that will work to negotiate a compromise with Gov. John Lynch on HB 648, the medical marijuana bill. Sens. Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth), Peggy Gilmour (D-Hollis) and John Gallus (R-Berlin) will join Reps. Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua), Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster), Robert Bridgham (D-Carroll) and David Welch (R-Kingston), who were named to the committee last week.
Advocates expressed hope that the team of legislators will craft a compromise that will address Gov. Lynch's concerns without jeopardizing seriously ill patients. Many of the committee members were very involved in writing and rewriting HB 648, and all voted in favor of the bill.
The bill has now passed both chambers of the legislature, but in different forms. A vote in the House earlier this month to concur with the Senate's amendment was expected to be a simple formality, but the situation became more complex when Lynch presented lawmakers with a list of eight concerns the day before the vote. Facing a likely veto, supportive representatives felt they had no choice but to reject the Senate version and opt instead for this unique form of negotiation.
The governor's top concern appears to be whether or not patients should be allowed to cultivate medical marijuana in their homes. Matt Simon, executive director of the NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, said that each of the 13 medical marijuana states allow "grow your own" and that allowing patients to produce their own supply is vital to ensuring safe access. It eases the financial burden on patients with little income who could not afford to purchase marijuana from a non-profit, whose prices must cover alarm systems, rent and staff time. And states with "grow your own" provisions have reported very few instances of abuse of the system or diversion of marijuana to the illicit market. Provisions such as requiring cultivation to occur in an enclosed, locked facility can effectively balance concerns about diversion with patients' need for access.
"Qualifying patients in 13 states are permitted to cultivate their own marijuana at minimal cost to themselves and no cost to the state," Simon said.
Simon stressed that some type of distribution centers, if enacted, would be a great option for some patients, but that it would not be practical for such centers to serve all qualifying patients in the state. "For low-income patients with debilitating conditions like MS, who are struggling to maintain their quality of life over long periods of time, personal cultivation is likely to be the most sensible option available."