FILE - Medical marijuana

New Hampshire residents who were hoping to get legal authority from the state to cultivate their own marijuana plants for medicinal purposes received a setback recently as the state Senate opted not to advance a piece of legislation from the House of Representatives.

House Bill 1476 would have allowed state residents who possess a medical marijuana card from the state to own two mature cannabis plants and 12 seedlings. Also, anyone cultivating the plants under this provision would have been allowed to give, but not sell, marijuana to another state resident who also has a medical marijuana card.

The Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee filed a report suggesting that the bill left too many unanswered questions and should be referred back to the committee for more study. Legislation referred for “interim study” oftentimes is simply allowed to expire at the end of the biennial session, when all bills without a final disposition are automatically killed. But in the meantime, it is less final than a vote to kill a bill.

Sen. Martha Hennessey tried to persuade her colleagues during floor debate that there was an urgent need to allow private cultivation of marijuana.

“We still haven't found a way ... to provide some of the medications to some of the people who are most in need,” she said. “We have increased the number of dispensaries, but we need more. And those with disabilities often cannot get to the dispensaries we do have. Once they do get there … they can't afford it because it's costing approximately [$300] to $400 dollars an ounce.”

Hennessey said that because insurance doesn’t cover medical marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law, there’s no mechanism to help those with financial difficulties get the treatment they need.

Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, shared some of Hennessey’s concerns.

“You go down any street in this state, in any town in this state, and you can buy marijuana walking down the street,” he said. “It's already there. This is a question about medical marijuana, and I've always supported the use of it, I will likely do the same here, because again we're dealing with people who are in difficult circumstances, remote and paying just exorbitant prices.”

But the medical aspect of New Hampshire’s marijuana program was precisely the problem to Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.

“There is a question of, how are these people going to get these plants?” she said. “You can't just buy anything off the street because this is supposed to be medicine, medicine with very different types that are specific to different conditions. So buying generic pot off the street is not supposed to really work too well.”

Another question was whether allowing private cultivation would become an issue for law enforcement. For Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, that was the deciding factor that tipped him toward voting against the proposal.

“I've supported decriminalization,” he said. “I would agree … that the times are changing, but we also heard significant amount of testimony from law enforcement and the opening up of grow-your-own without the proper controls is a significant issue in the way that they go about doing their job.”

Bradley also argued that with more dispensaries coming online and more people joining the program, access and pricing would naturally become less of an issue.

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, suggested that senators didn’t need to guess how private cultivation would affect New Hampshire’s communities because they could look at similar practices in a neighboring state.

“In Maine, the original program for therapeutic cannabis was grow your own,” he said. “So since 1999, Maine has allowed people to grow their own plants. … My new police chief in Deerfield was the police chief of Orono, Maine, home of the University of Maine. … So I asked him, ‘Well, how did you deal with this potential horror?’ and he said it's a non-event. He said there's not a police chief in Maine that's worried about homegrown cannabis.”

The motion to further study the legislation was approved on a vote of 14-10

Pennsylvania & Ohio News Editor

Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.