Wednesday marked the bittersweet one year anniversary of New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signing the state’s medical marijuana legislation into law.
One year later, though, and that law has yet to take effect.
Instead of rejoicing, medical marijuana patients and advocates “celebrated” the first anniversary of the state’s decision to legalize the drug by holding a demonstration to raise awareness for the delays the state’s medical marijuana program has faced. They also delivered a list of grievances and requests to Hassan’s office.
“Patients have nothing to celebrate on the first anniversary of New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law,” said Matt Simon, the Goffstown-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.
“Implementation of the program has been beset by needless delays, and people with debilitating conditions still face criminal penalties for possessing any amount of marijuana,” he said. “This situation is unacceptable.”
Hassan may have signed New Hampshire’s “Therapeutic Use of Cannabis” program into law on July 23, 2013, but as Simon noted, throughout the past year, medical marijuana patients in the state have continued to be arrested and criminally prosecuted for using the drug.
No one in the state has been given a patient ID card. Per the instruction of the state Attorney General’s office, the Department of Health and Human Services has been instructed to not issue patient ID cards until the first dispensary opens. Without an ID card, however, patients have no legal protections.
The problem with waiting to issue ID cards until the first dispensary opens is that the DHHS has not yet produced even a draft of rules for how dispensaries can legally operate in the state — in other words, there are no plans to open a dispensary anytime soon, making the law sort of meaningless for patients who have yet to experience legal relief.
Since patients are not able to cultivate their own medicine at home, they are still forced to buy their medicine on the black market. Further, marijuana is not decriminalized in the state, meaning instead of treating minor marijuana possession as a civil infraction that carries a small fine, patients often find themselves behind bars for possessing the substance.
Even if the law would have been fully implemented by now, many medical marijuana patients and advocates point out that the law is not friendly to patients. This may explain why the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access gave New Hampshire’s medical marijuana program a “D.”
When it comes to access to medicine, New Hampshire’s program got 43 out of a possible 100 points, according to ASA’s white paper on medical marijuana access in the United States.
As the Marijuana Policy Project notes in a list of patients’ 10 grievances with New Hampshire’s program — or lack thereof — part of the issue with implementing the program is related to the fact that there isn’t a patient representative on the advisory council that was established to help implement the program.
In fact, the first person who was appointed to the council was Tuftonboro Chief of Police Andrew Shagoury. He was the leading opponents to allowing patients access to cannabis, and he continues to oppose marijuana legalization, even for medicinal use.
MPP notes that while a patient was appointed to the advisory council, that individual has not attended a single meeting and doesn’t appear willing to “represent the interests of patients.”
Meanwhile, another concern is that New Hampshire doesn’t allow those with post-traumatic stress disorder to register as a medical marijuana patient, and the state actually requires patients to have both a listed symptom and a listed condition to qualify.
“We’re fed up with state officials’ stonewalling,” Simon said. “It’s time to start listening to the seriously ill people the medical marijuana law was intended to help.”