Source: New Hampshire Sentinel Source
In recent years, 18 states have authorized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, principally for palliative care for dreadfully painful conditions, and nine more are now considering such a move. New Hampshire is in this latter group with House Bill 573, a piece of legislation that is carefully drawn and deserving of support.
The bill is similar in many ways to legislation that’s become law in every other New England state: It calls for registration of patients and close monitoring of cultivation, requires that qualifying patients first try other forms of relief, and sets strict rules about the financial relationships between prescribing doctors and treatment centers. The language of the bill runs close to 30 pages, and is vastly more detailed than the first such legalization in the land, in California in 1996; the law there is so spare and open-ended that the number of medical marijuana users is unknown, but is believed to exceed half a million people.
In New Hampshire, the most common guess is that 1,000 patients suffering from specific debilitating illnesses would register for medical marijuana treatment, a number that is roughly in line with the experience in Vermont, a smaller state that reports about 650 such patients.
And, as noted, the proposed New Hampshire law would closely regulate the prescribing patterns of doctors to avoid situations that have cropped up in some other states, including Oregon where a recent newspaper report turned up a prescribing doctor who saw up to 80 patients a day. (The doctor conceded to the Oregonian newspaper that his schedule was “absolutely asinine.”)
House Bill 573 also limits the number of treatment centers to five, and allows patients to cultivate a limited supply of marijuana under controlled conditions. Caregivers would have to pass criminal background checks.
For all the recent experience nationally with medical marijuana, little is sure about its social impacts. Regarding crime, for example, one can find conflicting studies about whether crime goes up or down when medical marijuana is legal, but, in this region at least — in Maine (which first authorized medical marijuana in 1999) and Vermont (2004) — there doesn’t appear to be evidence of increased lawlessness.
To be sure, medical marijuana is a complex issue. For one, federal law continues to treat marijuana as a controlled drug, a fact that former Gov. John Lynch cited as his main reason for vetoing medical marijuana bills as recently as last year. And, in some eyes, medical marijuana authorization is just a back-door approach to full decriminalization.
We disagree with the latter proposition; full legalization is a separate matter. As for Lynch’s rationale, we place value on Barack Obama’s statement that he’s open to the idea of medical marijuana so long as there are strict guidelines, and also pledges by Lynch successor Maggie Hassan that, while she has concerns about patients growing their own crops, she supports the principle of legalizing marijuana for the relief of pain and suffering.