CONCORD, N.H. -- A provision to allow people to grow their own medical marijuana could be a sticking point in a bill currently working its way through the New Hampshire Legislature that would legalize the drug for those with chronic or terminal illnesses.
This is the fourth time in six years that lawmakers have tried to pass a medical marijuana bill. Former Democratic Gov. John Lynch vetoed the previous three attempts. Gov. Maggie Hassan, also a Democrat, has said she would support legalizing medical marijuana, but a spokesman said Friday she has concerns about home growing.
"The governor believes any measure permitting the use of medically prescribed marijuana must ensure that the method of distribution is safe and tightly regulated and has concerns about the ability to properly regulate a home grow option, but she will continue to listen to the concerns of advocates, law enforcement and legislators as the process moves forward," Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg said.
Supporters of the home cultivation provision said it’s crucial for access by patients in rural areas and could significantly bring down costs to people already facing steep medical bills.
"Beyond the long-term savings for patients, in other states it’s taken at least a year, sometimes more, to get dispensaries up and running," said Matt Simon, an advocate with the Marijuana Policy Project, "In New Jersey, it took three years and that’s too long for many patients."
The bill before the House Health Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee would allow patients or a caregiver to grow up to four adult plants and 12 seedlings at one time. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws, including all five other New England states. The District of Columbia and four other states prohibit home cultivation.
At a hearing Thursday, people dealing with chronic pain and their families urged New Hampshire lawmakers to pass a medical marijuana law. Many said they would prefer to cultivate their own plants, including Rep. Ted Wright, R-Moultonborough, whose wife is battling cancer.
Marijuana has helped her maintain a healthy weight during a difficult round of drug trials, he said. He was part of a group of legislators who toured dispensaries in Maine, and said purchasing from them cost roughly $400 a month. That’s an added expense he said he’d like to avoid.
Clayton Holton, 27, a wheelchair user due to a rare form of muscular dystrophy, has made the trip from Rochester, N.H., before to testify in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. One of Holton’s symptoms is wasting syndrome -- or serious weight loss -- and he said marijuana has helped him gain weight and allowed him to take fewer other drugs.
"To live in suffering and agony on a daily basis to the point where you have to take so many opiate drugs just to slightly numb the pain ... that’s not quality of life, that’s destroying what little life I have," he said.
Holton said, given the option, he would choose to designate a caregiver to grow marijuana for him, instead of purchasing from a dispensary.
Opponents worry that any medical marijuana law would be a regulatory and law enforcement nightmare. In addition, they say it’s not the best solution for patients. Dr. Seddon Savage, former president of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said while some patients might find marijuana beneficial they often turn to it before exploring other options, such as two marijuana derivative medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
"As written, this bill does not appear to be aimed at making herbal marijuana available for the rare patients who truly need it, but more for making an infrastructure to distribute marijuana to many people who might feel better using marijuana," she said.