Source: / [email protected]  11.29.14

CONCORD – The state is on track to begin processing the first two medical marijuana dispensary applicants in January, around when legislators will eye potential tweaks to the law.

At least two bill requests for 2015 seek to amend the definition of qualifying medical conditions under the therapeutic cannabis program.

Another bill would allow eligible patients and caregivers to cultivate cannabis for medicinal use. That proposal is more than a tweak, of course. It’s also a likely non-starter with Gov. Maggie Hassan, who opposed the “home grow” option before signing the current law on July 23, 2013.

“I’m not giving up that easily,” said Rep. Donald Wright, R-Tuftonboro, who filed the bill request, and was a co-sponsor of the therapeutic cannabis law.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the “home grow” language and the medical marijuana law.

Wright, whose wife has cancer, plans to file another bill that would require the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services to issue identification cards to qualifying patients and caregivers by July 23, 2015. “All it does is protect patients from arrest,” he said.

Per an advisory opinion of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, the state will not be issuing ID cards before “alternative treatment centers” (ATCs) are operational. At this point, that will not be before late summer, at the earliest.

A qualifying patient will be allowed to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis during a 10-day period, under the law.

By the numbers

In New Hampshire, the number of qualifying patients might be about 2,600, according to Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. His estimate is based on the qualified patients in Vermont (around 1,300).

The law provides for four non-profit dispensary centers with four geographic areas of the state. The initial registration fee for centers is $80,000, except in the northern most region where the fee is $40,000.

Qualifying centers will be authorized to acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, deliver, transfer, transport, sell, supply and dispense cannabis for qualifying patients, designated caregivers and ATCs. The rule-making defines the entity as a corporation that is registered with the New Hampshire secretary of state and is a “charitable trust” under state law.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules adopted patient registry rules last summer, and the JLCAR completed rule-making for the alternative treatment centers last week.

A request for applications will likely go out in early December.

New Hampshire was the only state in New England without a medical marijuana law. In 2013, it became the 19th state to adopt such a law.

People waiting

Advocates have pushed for patient access to ID cards to become available as soon as possible, citing the relief for people dealing with terminal, debilitating and chronic illnesses or conditions.

The reality is that it takes time to establish the regulatory framework, said state Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, one of the co-sponsors of the medical marijuana law. Reagan is also chairman of the JLCAR, and from that post he offered nothing but praise for the Department of Health and Human Services rules coordinator, Mike Holt.

Of the bill requests to amend the definition of qualifying medical condition, Reagan said the legislative intent will be to clarify the applicable conditions or symptoms.

“This will allow patients to buy a tested product and have some legal protections,” he said.

Prospective ATC operators are already working toward establishing centers in the state. In Epping earlier this month, selectmen hearing from a proposed dispensary operator also questioned whether their town was a good fit for such a use.

In Concord, rule-makers recently heard from municipal leaders about concerns over the tax base in connection with the nonprofit entities. Reagan says he will file another bill request to provide that alternative treatment centers make an equivalent payment to town or city. The “payment in lieu of taxes” provision has yet to be drafted.

Simon noted some patients looking to make use of the new law are frustrated by how long it has taken since 2013. The application process for the alternative treatment centers is a good step forward, he said.

Rule-making and establishing dispensaries takes time and the entities interested in applying have to consider time for local approval, construction and time to cultivate the product, he said.

“It’s not an ice cream stand,” he said.


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