NH News
12:16 pm
Tue September 4, 2012

New Governor Could Mean Business For Medical Marijuana In N.H.

New Hampshire’s House and Senate have together passed two separate bills legalizing medical marijuana. Governor Lynch vetoed both. Now, as gubernatorial candidates vie to fill his seat, a medical marijuana bill could finally make it past the governor’s desk.

To date, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.  In 2009, President Obama encouraged federal prosecutors to respect these states’ laws – despite the fact that the substance is illegal on a federal level.

Massachusetts voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana in November.  If they do, New Hampshire will become the only state in New England that doesn’t allow patients to use marijuana. But that – could change this year.

Matt Simon, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, says "I don’t think anybody could be happier in New Hampshire than medical marijuana patients that Governor Lynch is not seeking reelection." He says that while the issue has gathered bipartisan support over the years, getting the bill signed hasn't been easy. 

In New Hampshire this year, a majority of Republicans in a Republican-dominated legislature, a majority in the house, and in the senate voted for medical marijuana this year, and to have that work vetoed by a Democratic governor -- we just hope that's a short term setback, because we’ve clearly gotten beyond the traditional partisan divide. 

Simon says the reason medical marijuana has received such bipartisan support in the legislature is because lawmakers have been willing to meet with patients and hear their point of view. Governor Lynch, he says, wasn’t so accessible.

Governor Lynch wasn't, unfortunately, interested in meeting with patients, wasn't giving clear signals to the legislature, so a lot of work was done by legislators without having a clear position from the governor's office, and the governor ended up vetoing the product of that work not once but twice.

Democratic candidate Maggie Hassan says her meetings with patients have everything to do with why she voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2009, when she was a state Senator.

The input that I heard really changed my perspective.  The testimony that was the most compelling was from a woman who had small children. She had a debilitating medical illness. There were other options, but the side-effects were so strong that she couldn't make them lunch and get them off to school. 

Hassan says she will consider any bill that adequately addresses public safety concerns. Her democratic opponent, former state Senator Jackie Cilley, has also voted Yea on three medical marijuana legalization bills, and says that she, too, would support a bill as governor.  But the Democrats aren’t the only ones in favor of medical marijuana. Recently on NHPR’s The Exchange, Republican candidate Ovide Lamontagne even called medical legalization a conservative issue.

It's a conservative issue, it’s a liberty issue, you've got a lot of medicines out there, and if there's a way that this can be dispensed in a controlled way and a physician believes that this can help a patient, then why do we stand in the way of that?

Despite the fact that New  Hampshire law enforcement in has repeatedly come out against it, underdog Republican candidate Robert Tarr also supports legalization, which leaves Republican candidate Kevin Smith as the lone holdout. Smith says the federal government needs to legalize the drug first.

I think it’s got to be treated the same as any other controlled substances or medicine is, it's got to go through FDA approval, and really it’s up to the federal government to change their rules on it. I just don’t think the state itself can properly regulate it at this time.  

It’s not every day a conservative candidate like Kevin Smith prefers federal regulation over state regulation -- but then again it’s not every day a former senior US military member with a background in counter drug intelligence supports an all-out legalization of the substance.  That’s Democratic underdog candidate Bill Kennedy:

The issue is marijuana is not the burden on our society people play it up to be, and we spend billions of dollars combating it every year that could be better used in other programs.

Legalizing medical marijuana isn’t a headlining issue in this campaign.  But, whichever candidate finds him or herself in the corner office this winter will surely find it is a persistent one.  

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