A bill that would allow people in New Hampshire with chronic health problems to use marijuana received the backing of the Republican Senate this week, but with the proposal gaining momentum in Concord, local police chiefs worry it would strengthen efforts to legalize the drug in the Granite State.
Gov. John Lynch has indicated he will veto the Senate bill, which passed on a 13-11 vote late Wednesday night.
It would allow patients with “debilitating medical conditions” or their designated caretakers to possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana, four mature plants and 12 seedlings at a single, registered “cultivation location.” They could also avoid penalties for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana elsewhere.
In an email, Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso said he worries the bill is a “proverbial ‘foot in the door’” for efforts to legalize marijuana. He also fears marijuana grown for medicinal purposes will be diverted into the illegal drug trade, something that occurs now with prescription drugs.
Allowing medical marijuana use would also send youths the wrong message, and give “one more justification for a young person to try marijuana,” Colarusso wrote.
“When something is legalized, it is also legitimized,” he wrote.
The N.H. Association of Police Chiefs doesn’t support the bill, and Durham Police Chief Dave Kurz added his voice to the opposition Wednesday, saying the legislation will erode marijuana prohibitions down the road.
“If you want to legalize, let’s have the discussion, but I believe this is sort of a back-door entry into legalization,” he said.
Kurz said the legislation stands to make policing more difficult, since officers will need to be trained about the medical marijuana cultivation regulations, and then exercise discretion in the field. He also pointed out that marijuana cultivation is still illegal under federal law.
Supporters say the bill’s home cultivation approach would reduce the risk of abuse or federal prosecution. Caretakers would be volunteers — most likely family members, they say. The law permits compensation for actual costs like electricity, but not labor, which supporters say eliminates the business aspect.
Patients would need a registry identification card, which would require written certification from their doctor that medical use of marijuana would help treat a “debilitating medical condition.”
Qualifying conditions include cancer, HIV, AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some symptoms or treatment results such as severe pain or severe nausea would also qualify.
Patients with a qualifying condition visiting from out of state could also possess marijuana without a card, but not cultivate it. Caretakers would need a card as well and would be subject to a background check.
The bill passed on a narrow 13-11 vote Wednesday, after Senators adopted one last amendment by Sen. Jim Forsythe, the Strafford Republican sponsoring the bill, which reduced the number of plants patients are allowed to grow from six to four, with a maximum canopy of 100 square feet.
The bill would not legalize marijuana possession for anyone beyond registry identification card holders or visiting qualifying patients. Card holders who provide marijuana to anyone not allowed to have it would have their cards revoked and face a Class B felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Additional penalties for illegal marijuana sale would also apply.
The proposed law also would expire after three years unless lawmakers acted to renew it.
Colarusso said a recent youth survey found marijuana is now more widely used by Dover teens than tobacco. He said the drop in youth tobacco use suggests antismoking campaigns have been successful, and the Senate bill could have the opposite effect for marijuana use.
“I have been in law enforcement for 27 years, and I cannot remember a time when drug use and crime related to drug use is as prevalent as it is now,” he wrote. “The illegal use of legal drugs is currently the biggest problem. We need fewer options for those who abuse drugs, not more of them.”
Staff Writer Jim Haddadin contributed to this report.