In a surprise move, all 3 existing medical dispensaries in New Hampshire (Temescal Wellness, Sanctuary ATC and and Prime ATC) testified in support of a medical patient homegrow bill at today's New Hampshire State Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing.
The bill under consideration, HB.350, would allow medical patients and registered caregivers in the State of New Hampshire to cultivate up to 3 mature plants, 3 immature plants and 12 seedlings.
Having passed in the House last month, the current version of the bill now awaits the decision of Senators both on the Committee and in the full chamber itself.
The issue of medical patient homegrow is not one novel to New Hampshire lawmakers; similar bills have been proposed over the past 3 years, with fervent support in the State's House of Representatives, only to stall out in the Senate Chamber.
Matt Simon, Senior Legislative Analyst at Marijuana Policy Project and longtime advocate (since 2007) for cannabis policy reform in NH, has worked with lawmakers on the bill since its inception over 3 years ago. After today's hearing, he told me things went "very well".
"In particular" said Simon, "I was delighted to hear representatives from all three of New Hampshire’s alternative treatment centers speaking in favor of HB 350. This was a big change from the hearing on a similar bill two years ago, when one spoke in opposition and none expressed support. It’s important for patients to know that medical cannabis businesses are not advocating against their interests, so I regard this as a huge step forward for the therapeutic cannabis program in New Hampshire."
While Simon noted that there is never a guaranteed outcome when engaging in public policy deliberations with lawmakers, he was "more confident after today’s hearing [that the bill will pass into law]" and expressed his gratitude to those who testified.
One of those patients who spoke at the hearing, Zach Williams, told lawmakers he is spending $720 per month to purchase a total of two ounces of medical cannabis flower from a local dispensary to ensure he is able to live pain free. In turn, Williams said he supported the bill to help medical patients obtain their medication at the lowest possible cost.
"As patients" said Williams, "it is really important that we be educated on how to grow our medicine and this bill is a great step forward."
Currently, the law in New Hampshire makes it a felony for a medical patient (or anyone else) to grow even 1 plant in their home.
Speaking on that issue at the public hearing, State Representative Robert "Renny" Cushing said, "To me this is a matter of justice. The notion that we would want to have in place legislation that would make it a felony for someone, who has already been able to use therapeutic [medical] cannabis, because they are growing a plant in their back yard is totally disproportionate to any kind of fairness and I think that would be violative of our State Constitution."
Representative Cushing continued, "This is also about healthcare justice. The reality is therapeutic [medical] cannabis can be expensive to purchase in the [dispensaries]...and the ability for those who do not have means to cultivate their own medicine just seems to me to be a matter of simply justice and I would urge the Committee to pass this legislation."
As lawmakers were told again and again by medical patients and others who spoke at the hearing; the current legal hostility to homegrow in New Hampshire has forced some of the state's most vulnerable residents to either give up on cannabis treatment entirely (often times returning to the use of far more dangerous prescription medications) or move to other surrounding state's that allows homegrow (such as Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts).
As a result, community support for today's bill was substantial; every single person who testified at the Committee spoke in favor of the homegrow bill (except for 1 indvidual, representing the State's Police Chief's Association).
The objection raised by the Chief, in part, suggested that allowing medical patients to grow at home would hurt the profits of the existing commercial medical market.
That argument, however, was undermined when all 3 of the state's operational medical dispensaries spoke in favor of the homegow proposal -- to a look of, what I am almost certain was, bemused approval on the face of one or two of the lawmakers attending Wednesday's virtual hearing.
The bill will be considered by the Committee over the coming weeks, and, should there be updates on its status, I will ensure to pass them along.