Medical marijuana bill fails in New Hampshire

By Norma Love
Associated Press / October 29, 2009

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CONCORD, N.H. - New Hampshire fell two votes short yesterday of becoming the 14th state to legalize marijuana use by severely ill people after the state Senate failed to override Governor John Lynch’s veto.

The Senate’s 14-10 vote did not reach the two-thirds needed for passage. Earlier in the day the House voted 240-115 to pass the bill over Lynch’s objections.

Lynch cited concerns over cultivation, distribution, and the potential for abuse. He also said the bill did not clearly restrict marijuana use to people with severe pain, seizures, or nausea.

The bill would have established three nonprofit “compassion centers’’ to dispense 2 ounces of marijuana every 10 days to severely ill patients whose doctors approve the drug’s use. The state would have licensed the centers and issued identification cards to their staff, approved patients, and care- givers.

Supporters said that the bill would provide relief to people with chronic or terminal illnesses.

“This is a bill about compassion. It is about using a drug that is relatively safe,’’ said Senator Peggy Gilmour, Democrat of Hollis. “It is up to 16 of us to look at those who suffer and say, ‘I understand and I will help.’ ’’

Opponents said the bill would invite abuse.

“This is a terrible message to send to our children,’’ said Senator Robert Letourneau, Republican of Derry.

Critics in the House contended that a provision prohibiting workplace discrimination against users created a public safety issue for firefighters, police, and others.

“We should err on the side of caution,’’ said Representative Shawn Jasper, Republican of Hudson.

After the vote, the bill’s prime sponsor, Representative Evalyn Merrick, said she will refile the bill for the 2011 legislative session after next year’s election, which will change the makeup of both chambers.

Merrick, a Lancaster Democrat, said she did not expect to make major changes.

“We addressed all the concerns in the governor’s veto message already,’’ she said.

Lynch, who is expected to run for reelection, reiterated his opposition last week after US Attorney John Kacavas said he would not prosecute people using small amounts for pain or to improve their appetite. Kacavas said his office would focus on drug dealers.