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24 Jul, 2013 18:39

New Hampshire legalizes medical marijuana

New Hampshire legalizes medical marijuana

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan on Tuesday signed a new medical marijuana bill into law, officially making her state the 19th to allow doctors to prescribe the drug.

State lawmakers in both legislative houses overwhelmingly approved the new law in June, and Gov. Hassan said she would sign the bill, thereby making New Hampshire the last state in New England to legalize medical marijuana.

“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, and this legislation ensures that we approach this policy in the right way with measures to prevent abuse,” Hassan said in a statement.

The measure permits patients with “chronic or terminal disease” or “debilitating medical conditions” to obtain prescriptions for marijuana.  Under the new law, these patients will be allowed to possess up to 2 ounces of the drug, which they would have to obtain from a nonprofit marijuana dispensary.

“This legislation is long overdue and comes as a relief to the many seriously ill patients throughout New Hampshire who will benefit from safe access to medical marijuana,” Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “Those suffering from debilitating conditions like cancer and multiple sclerosis deserve legal, safe and reliable access to medical marijuana.”

An initial version of the bill would have allowed patients to grow their own marijuana at home, but Gov. Hassan successfully removed that provision. And to prevent patients from going “doctor shopping” to find one that will prescribe the drug, the law requires patients to obtain the prescription from a medical provider that they have been seeing for at least 90 days. That provision ensures that patients have tried other remedies and exhibited ongoing symptoms before resorting to marijuana use.

The new law allows for the licensing of up to four marijuana dispensaries, each of which can grow a maximum of 80 marijuana plants and possess 80 ounces of marijuana, or 6 ounces per patient.

“By providing strong regulatory oversight and clear dispensing guidelines, this bill addresses many of the concerns that were expressed throughout the legislative process,” the governor said. “[The bill] legalizes the use of medical marijuana in a way that makes sense for the state of New Hampshire and gives health providers another option to help New Hampshire’s seriously ill patients.”

Last year, the Republican-led New Hampshire legislature approved a similar bill, but it was vetoed by former Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who argued that the measure did not provide adequate restrictions on marijuana cultivation and prescription. Lynch contended that under the proposed law, patients would be able to obtain a prescription without seriously needing it, and abuse the drug.

But New Hampshire’s new medical marijuana bill has addressed some of the issues that troubled the former governor, and the provisions will gradually go into effect over the next few months.

Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are currently considering similar measures.

“The vast majority of Americans recognize the medical benefits of marijuana and believe people with serious illnesses should have safe and legal access to it,” Simon said. “We applaud our elected officials for enacting a law to protect patients, and we hope legislators in other states will follow suit.”