Expanding Medical Marijuana
Medicinal marijuana refers to using the cannabis plant or derivatives of it to treat symptoms of disease and other conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine.
New Hampshire’s medicinal marijuana law permits use for patients who meet any of these criteria:
- suffering from chronic severe pain;
- diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition such as cancer, glaucoma, or HIV;
- a terminal medical condition resulting in at least one of a list of specific symptoms, such as seizures or severe nausea.
Additional conditions are considered on a case-by-case basis when the patient’s provider submits a written request to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
How to get medical marijuana in NH
Patients must get a certification letter from a doctor with whom they have an established relationship. They can then apply for a medical marijuana card from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Qualifying patients can purchase up to two ounces of medicinal marijuana every 10 days at one of the state's alternative treatment centers. (State law limits the number of alternative treatment centers, but each center is permitted to have a second location for cultivation of marijuana.)
Patients may also designate a caregiver who is authorized to purchase and administer the drug for them.
You may not grow your own medical marijuana in New Hampshire.
History of medical marijuana in NH
Before HB 573 (2013), the bill that eventually saw medical marijuana legalized in New Hampshire, medicinal marijuana laws passed the Legislature in 2009 and 2012. Both bills were vetoed by Gov. John Lynch. In 2012, Gov. Lynch cited concerns about the proliferation and distribution of medicinal marijuana as reasons for his veto.
The passage of HB 476 in 2015 expanded qualifying conditions to include epilepsy, lupus, and Parkinson’s disease. Ulcerative colitis was added by the passage of HB 1453 in 2016, and 2017 saw hepatitis C, post traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain included as well.
There was a controversial delay in implementation of the law, with medical marijuana cards finally being issued in December 2015 and the state’s alternative treatment centers opening in 2016.
Federal medical marijuana law
Despite the fact that many states have legalized medicinal marijuana or at least have laws allowing the medical use of a marijuana extract, the federal government views marijuana as an illegal drug.
However, in 2009, the Department of Justice issued a memo to all federal prosecutors recommending they “not focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” This has been interpreted as an instruction that federal prosecutors not pursue cases against medical marijuana users or providers who are acting in accordance with the laws in their states.
Medical marijuana law in other states
Of the states where medicinal marijuana is legal, only some states allow patients to grow marijuana at home. Others allow home cultivation under a certain set of conditions, such as distance to nearest dispensary, financial hardship, etc.
Some states allow the use of Cannabidiol (CBD) extract for medical purposes, but not the cannabis plan itself. CBD is the main non-psychoactive chemical component of marijuana. It is considered a controlled substance by the DEA. New Hampshire’s law does not address CBD.
California allows medicinal marijuana for any chronic or persistent medical symptom “that substantially limits the ability of the person to conduct one or more major life activities (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990s),” essentially giving doctors sole discretion. Massachusetts has a similar provision in its law.
Home growing medical marijuana
New Hampshire law requires medicinal marijuana be purchased at one of the state’s licensed dispensaries. Driving distance can be burdensome for some, as can the cost since medicinal marijuana is not covered by insurance. This has led some in the Granite State to call for allowing medical marijuana patients to grow the drug at home.
States that allow home growth limit the number of plants cultivated, usually within a range of 6-12.
Some supporters of allowing patients to grow marijuana at home argue that it could eliminate travel issues and make marijuana more affordable for patients. Opponents express concerns that the quality and safety of home-grown marijuana could vary, or that home grown marijuana could be a lure for increased criminal activity.
Distribution via pharmacy and vending machines are two scenarios currently being considered in Canada.
“New Hampshire should expand its medicinal marijuana law.”
- Allowing the use of cannabis for a greater list of conditions would provide patients with a safe, natural alternative to opioids, which can be highly addictive.
- Though there have not yet been solid clinical trials in the U.S., preliminary data indicates that cannabis can be effective for treating many conditions.
- If there were negative side effects from using medical marijuana, evidence of that would have surfaced.
- For patients who start using the drug as an adult for medical purposes, there is almost zero risk of addiction.
- Limiting access to the drug to a list of conditions excludes those suffering from other ailments or more complex combinations of health issues whose symptoms could be alleviated by cannabis.
The preceding points were made by former state Rep. Joseph LaChance and Dr. Gil Fanciullo of the Pain Management Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center during an episode of NHPR’s The Exchange on August 24, 2016.
“New Hampshire should maintain or scale back its medicinal marijuana law.”
- Herbal marijuana meets none of the criteria used to ensure that other drugs are safe and effective, including extensive studies, careful monitoring of production and delivery, and monitoring after approval for side effects or other negative outcomes.
- It’s impossible for doctors to safety prescribe and monitor marijuana because the levels of active cannabinoids are unpredictable and delivery methods—such as smoking, eating, or vaporizing—also effect dosage.
- Regular use of marijuana does have negative side effects, including impaired brain development in young people, and has been associated with psychological problems and poor work and school performance.
- More individuals in the U.S. seek addiction treatment for marijuana than for any other drug except alcohol.
- If used at all, medical marijuana should be limited to patients whose symptoms do not respond to approved medications and procedures.
The preceding points were made by Dr. Seddon Savage of the Dartmouth Center on Addiction, Recovery & Education in her testimony against New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law, made on behalf of the New Hampshire Medical Society.