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Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Hampshire Senate passes medical marijuana bill

The New Hampshire Senate voted Wednesday to approve a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 409, in a 13-11 vote. The bill now moves to the House.

"I know this was a difficult vote for several of my colleagues, and I applaud them for asking the tough questions that helped us make this a better bill," said Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Stafford), the bill's prime sponsor. "The intent here has never been to turn New Hampshire into California," he added. "We've worked hard to make sure SB 409 will protect patients and their families without opening to door to abuse, and I'm very pleased that a majority of my colleagues ultimately chose to support this bill."

Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster), a cancer survivor, led the charge on medical marijuana legislation in the last two sessions. "All along we’ve been saying that this issue transcends partisan boundaries, and it's very gratifying to see so many Republicans join the growing bipartisan consensus in support of medical marijuana," she said after Wednesday's vote.

The bill would allow patients with serious illnesses such as MS, cancer, and AIDS to register with the Department of Health and Human Services and receive ID cards protecting them from arrest if their doctor recommends marijuana. Qualifying patients would be permitted to cultivate up to four mature plants in an enclosed, locked facility. There is no provision for dispensary-style distribution.

A similar bill passed the House by a margin of more than two-to-one last year, but died in the Senate. Two years earlier, both chambers passed a medical marijuana bill, only to see it vetoed by Gov. John Lynch (D).

Gov. Lynch has already threatened to veto this legislation, too. Earlier this week, his press secretary, Colin Manning, told the Nashua Democrat that Lynch remains opposed to the bill because it runs counter to federal law.

"The governor raised concerns about lack of regulation for distribution, and this is even less restrictive," Manning said. "Six ounces is a lot of pot to have access to, and that's why he'd veto this bill, too."

While the margin of passage in the Senate is not veto-proof, activists and legislators will be continuing to work the Senate in hopes of persuading a handful of "no" votes to flip to the "yes" column in the event the bill passes the House and Lynch holds true to his veto threat.

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