NH lawmakers weighing medical marijuana legalization
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 01:02
New Hampshire lawmakers are currently in debate about House Bill 573, which would allow doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana as treatment for certain diseases. The bill would only allow marijuana use by patients who have received clearance from a doctor.
Similar bills have been brought up in previous years but were vetoed by former Gov. John Lynch. Many believe that this year the bill will make it through the New Hampshire House and Senate, and will be approved by new Gov. Maggie Hassan. The bill brings up many questions about the legalization of marijuana and whether New Hampshire residents should consider fully legalizing it.
While many New Hampshire residents are in support of marijuana, many have different opinions on how far legalization should go. According to a recent poll conducted by the UNH Survey Center, 79 percent of New Hampshire residents are in support of the legalization of medical marijuana. However, that same poll found that only 48 percent of the state population was in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Matt Simon works for the New Hampshire-based Marijuana Policy Project. The MPP’s mission is to see the decriminalization of marijuana, both medicinal and otherwise. The MPP’s hope is that one day marijuana will be used and regulated like alcohol. Simon said that passing the bill would allow some patients to receive the treatment they need without fearing legal reprisals.
“We believe that medical marijuana is a high moral imperative,” Simon said. “Some patients can’t benefit from pharmaceuticals due to side effects or no effect. For reasons scientists are now discovering, marijuana is helping when nothing else does.”
HB-573 cites the uses of marijuana as including relief of the neuropathic pain caused by multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and other illnesses that often fail to respond to conventional treatments. According to the bill, marijuana also works in relieving patients of the side effects of drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, such as nausea and vomiting. Various organizations including the National Cancer Institute say that marijuana has the potential of relieving cancer symptoms and the side effects of cancer treatment.
According to Simon, if the bill is passed, doctors could give ID cards to patients they think would benefit from medical marijuana. The ID cards would allow a patient to possess up to two ounces of marijuana without prosecution. Patients would have the option of going to a registered cultivation center to get their prescription or growing their own plants.
“Some patients have needs and can’t wait four months to grow (the plants). Others have less pressing issues and can cultivate for themselves and save money,” Simon said.
Some fear that by legalizing medical marijuana it will become harder for police officers to go after people using it illegally. Simon said he doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“I think will make easier for law enforcement. Everyone who has ID from doctor are protected, those who don’t not protected from arrest,” Simon said.
Similar bills have been brought up before in the New Hampshire legislature. In 2009 and 2012, the bill passed both the N.H. House and Senate, only to be vetoed by former Gov. John Lynch. During her time as the Majority Leader of the New Hampshire Senate, current Gov. Maggie Hassan repeatedly voted in favor of the medical marijuana bill, giving hope to the bill’s supporters.
Sean Moreau is a senior journalism major and said that he is neutral on the issue of full legalization of marijuana. However, Moreau said he feels that, as a medicine, marijuana should be allowed to people who need it.
“I think it’s definitely a good thing. You definitely don’t want people to suffer,” Moreau said.
Moreau said he doubts people will abuse the right to use medical marijuana and hopes that the law will be passed.
Caiti Duttry had vaguely heard about the bill in the news and supports it in hopes that it might lead to full legalization of marijuana.
“I think it’s a positive step in the right direction. I wouldn’t say it’s enough,” Duttry said.
Duttry said she absolutely supports the legalization of marijuana and thinks the criminalization of marijuana in our society is an extensive problem.
“It puts people in jail who don’t belong there. It contributes to the inflated price of prisons, it puts stress on law enforcement and it keeps up an unnecessary stigma about the use of marijuana,” Duttry said.
Duttry went on to say that while she hopes the medical marijuana bill will eventually lead to legalization, it will take a long time for that to happen.
New Hampshire is the only state in New England without a medical marijuana law, with Massachusetts putting its medical marijuana law in effect Jan. 1 of this year. Currently, 18 states and Washington, D.C. have a medical marijuana law in effect, with Washington and Colorado fully legalizing it.
Jenn Hall is a recent UNH graduate. She is also the founder of the UNH chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a marijuana advocacy group that believes in full legalization. Hall said that the bill would be a step in the right direction.