By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Doctors no longer have to wait three months to prescribe medical marijuana, but their patients cannot grow it for themselves after the House and Senate overrode the first, but the Senate was unable to override the second on Thursday of two of Gov. Chris Sununu’s 55 vetoes.
The bill on removing the waiting period for medicinal cannabis, Senate Bill 88, was overridden on a vote of 238-117 in the House and 17-7 in the Senate. It now becomes law, the only successful override this week. Lawmakers overrode Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of the bill outlawing the death penalty in the spring.
Of Sununu’s 55 vetoes, 53 have now been taken up, 51 were sustained, 2 vetoes overridden, and 2 vetoed budget bills remain, HB 1 and HB 2, to be taken up next week.
A two-thirds majority vote in both houses is needed to override a veto.
Marijuana patients still need to establish a relationship with a doctor under the new law, but the physician is no longer encumbered by a three-month waiting period.
The House voted 259-120 to allow patients to grow the medicinal cannabis on Wednesday, but the Senate voted Thursday 13-11, failing to override Sununu’s veto.
The vote was not entirely along partisan lines with Senate President Donna Soucy, Lou D’Allesandro; and Kevin Cavanaugh, Democrats, voting against HB 364, and Republicans John Reagan and Harold French voting to support the bill.
The Senate earlier in the day sustained Sununu’s vetoes on among other bills, paid family leave, increasing the minimum wage, and voting rights legislation.
On House Bill 364, the last bill of the day, the Senate went into some impassioned testimony before failing to override Sununu’s veto.
Republican state Sen. John Reagan said a former House representative he knows had a mastectomy and then developed chronic and unrelievable pain, asked him to support the bill to allow her to grow medicinal cannabis.
He said the normal medical protocol is to give her opioids.
“She comes up with $400 to pay for cannabis but it doesn’t last the whole month. She asked me to pass this,” Reagan said.
“The next part of my story is my late wife developed a carcinoma and many people here knew her and through her loyalty, she was a lobbyist, and through the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police would not use cannabis, out of loyalty to them,” Reagan said referring to Elizabeth Murphy.
“That is where we are getting the pressure, today,” he said and noted the chiefs of police “message is let those people suffer because the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) pay us to take a public stance against anything and everything including cannabis. What my goal here is on the homegrown is to get relief and get (people) off opioids unless they are fabulously wealthy and can pay for thousands of dollars for cannabis,” Reagan said.
Maine went to homegrown medicinal cannabis 20 years ago and you never heard about it because there was no problem, said state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth.
Sen. Tom Sherman said this is the right decision for patients for issues of cost, safety, and accessibility.
“There are really no good reasons to not move forward. It’s regulated. It’s safe…and finally, we are in the middle of an opioid crisis,” Sherman said.
State Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said he is concerned about the unintended consequences of the plants getting into the cannabis black market which will “find its ways to the streets and schools of our state.”
Giuda said it would likely be sold by indigent folks who need to get money.
Sen. Harold French asked, “How do you expect them to buy it (in a dispensary) if they are indigent?”
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said the bill on growing medicinal cannabis is silent on how it will be enforced.
“Put aside your emotions,” Carson said. “We need to look at the practical side of this…there are too many holes.
“We have got to make sure we are doing it right and we have the structure in place to monitor the program.”
In the end, Carson’s argument won out.