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New Hampshire Lawmakers Weigh Medical Marijuana Expansion Bills Amid Recreational Legalization Debate



While uncertainty remains around how New Hampshire’s Senate will receive a House-passed measure to legalize adult-use cannabis, lawmakers separately took up a batch of bills this week that would make changes to the state’s existing medical marijuana system.

Among them are proposals to allow patients to grow marijuana at home, expand qualifying conditions for the state’s therapeutic cannabis program and permit any doctor who can prescribe other drugs to humans to also recommend marijuana.

None of the six bills heard this week were acted upon in committee, with House and Senate panels instead taking testimony and leaving action for a later date. Each measure has already been approved by its full originating chamber and is now being considered by the opposite body.

On Thursday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard comments on four cannabis related bills:

HB 1278

Sponsored by Rep. Wendy Thomas (D), who is also a cancer survivor and medical marijuana patient, HB 1278 would allow doctors to recommend marijuana for any condition they believe would be improved through cannabis use. Specifically, it would add to the state’s qualifying conditions for medical marijuana “any debilitating or terminal medical condition or symptom for which the potential benefits of using therapeutic cannabis would, in the provider’s clinical opinion, likely outweigh the potential health risks for the patient.”

Thomas told the panel that during her time as a medical marijuana patient, she’s used cannabis to manage chronic pain, insomnia, eating issues, gastrointestinal issues, PTSD and anxiety. “I found relief from all of these symptoms,” she said, “some of which are not covered in the program.”

The bill would not do away with the enumerated list of qualifying conditions, which Thomas said was a useful way for clinicians who are less familiar with cannabis to navigate the system.

“The point of this is that they would be allowed to…refer a patient to the program for any condition that they think would fit and benefit the patient,” she said.

In support of the bill, Thomas noted that a recent federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report recommending that marijuana be moved to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act “identifies additional uses that cannabis has been found helpful for. These conditions include ALS, autism, muscle wasting, cancer, chronic pain, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy or conditions causing seizures, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, [multiple sclerosis], Parkinson’s disease, persistant severe muscle spasm, persistent severe nausea, PTSD and spasticity.”

Another lawmaker who is a registered medical cannabis patient, Rep. Heath Howard (D), told members that “we as a legislature have designated it acceptable for being a member of therapeutic cannabis program, but in terms of having changes being made to that list, we have to come back here every single time we want to make a change.”

“This legislation would help eliminate that by giving doctors a say,” he said.

HB 1231

A medical marijuana homegrow bill, HB 1231 would allow registered therapeutic marijuana patients and their caregivers to grow up to three mature cannabis plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings. They could also keep up to eight ounces of usable marijuana.

The proposal is also sponsored by Thomas, who said Thursday that the bill would reduce costs for patients, provide easier access to medicine for those who can’t easily access one of the state’s seven dispensaries—known in New Hampshire as alternative treatment centers (ATCs)—and ensure patients can obtain products that best treat their conditions.

“Why do we need this bill?” Thomas said. “One reason is the cost cannabis is not covered by insurance. If you are a patient who uses a lot to keep your symptoms under control, it can be expensive. And remember, this is a vulnerable population.”

“Secure home cultivation is not causing any problems” in states where it’s allowed, she added. “Fourteen of the 18 states that have legalized adult use cannabis, and about half of the medical cannabis states, allow for personal cultivation. In the states that have reasonable safeguards, home cultivation has not been a problem. No state has repealed home cultivation.”

The proposal has the support of the state’s Therapeutic Cannabis Medical Oversight Board as well as some existing ATCs.

“We think it will help with affordability, accessibility and availability of specific strains,” said the board’s chair, Jerry Knirk, a former surgeon and Democratic state lawmaker.

Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at the ATC GraniteLeaf, told the panel the company supports the reform on philosophical grounds, not because it expects to make money from the change.

“We would very much like to be able to help patients with this and assist them,” he told the committee. “Our cultivation staff would love to teach classes if this becomes legal. Our dispensary staff would love to connect patients with seedlings. We’d love to be able to provide that service.”

“I’ve been advocating for homegrow for 15 years, and I’ll keep doing it,” added Simon, who helped pass the state’s existing medical marijuana law. “I didn’t have any gray hairs when we started. Now I have a lot of them. I really hope this will be the year.”

(Disclosure: Simon supports Marijuana Moment’s work with a monthly Patreon pledge.)

HB 1349

Sponsored by Rep. Howard, HB 1349 would add generalized anxiety disorder to the state’s list of qualifying conditions for therapeutic cannabis. It has bipartisan co-sponsors and is supported by the state’s Therapeutic Cannabis Medical Oversight Board.

Howard spoke in favor of his bill Thursday, saying that it builds on the “tremendous amount of success in especially veterans and their treatment of PTSD with medical cannabis” and adding that marijuana may also provide a less risky alternative to benzodiazepines, “which are pills like Xanax, and they can be highly addictive.”

HB 1581

Under current law, ATCs in New Hampshire are required to grow marijuana in secure, indoor locations. The use of semi-outdoor structures, like greenhouses, is prohibited. HB 1581, sponsored by Rep. Suzanne Vail (D)—another medical marijuana patient—would change that, expanding where cannabis can be grown and explicitly allowing cultivation in greenhouses.

“Using greenhouses for cultivation will reduce the electricity costs and decrease the cost to the alternative treatment centers when they are cultivating the raw product that they’re going to use to make the products that they have in the dispensaries,” Vail said. “So this is another way to reduce costs for the patient.”

Simon, at GraniteLeaf, said the goal isn’t necessarily to grow more cannabis but for ATCs to use different, more efficient cultivation methods.

“What we want is to grow differently,” he told the panel. “We want to have at least some of our cultivation take place outside so that it can be much more energy efficient and so that we can make lower-cost cannabis available to patients.”

“To grow cannabis indoors, you basically have to simulate an entire outdoor growing season inside under high intensity lights,” he added. “It costs a lot.”

Legislative panels also considered some cannabis bills on Wednesday:

SB 357

The House Health and Human Services Committee took testimony on SB 357, a measure that would allow any provider who is licensed to prescribe drugs to humans to also recommend medical marijuana. The bipartisan bill, led by Sen. Rebecca Whitley (D), would put into law that “any New Hampshire resident who is licensed to prescribe drugs to humans and who possesses an active registration from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] to prescribe controlled substances.”

The bill also requires that two providers, including one pediatric care provider, submit written certification for issuance of a medical marijuana card to a minor.

SB 426

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, meanwhile, heard comments on SB 426, which would impose a $150 fine and suspend a person’s driver’s license if they’re found with marijuana in a vehicle that’s not in its “original container and with the seal unbroken” or not stored in a trunk or similarly inaccessible area. The goal is to treat accessible marijuana in a vehicle more like an open container of alcohol under state law.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Meanwhile in New Hampshire, the House recently passed a marijuana legalization bill from Rep. Erica Layon (R), who’s spent months trying to hammer out a proposal that can win broad support in the legislature and a signature from Gov. Chris Sununu (R), a legalization skeptic. But Sununu and some in the Senate have said Layon’s proposal is a nonstarter because it doesn’t give the state day-to-day control over retail operations like the governor’s preferred state-run or state-franchise models.

Layon has said that day-to-day control could expose the state to legal risk, and she’s argued the state shouldn’t be in the business of setting prices on marijuana products.

Following the House of that bill, however, Sununu signaled that he’s against the legislation in its current form—but could still ultimately get on board if changes are made in the Senate.

“Governor Sununu has been crystal clear about the framework needed for a legalization bill to earn his support, focusing on harm reduction and keeping it out of kids’ hands,” his office said in a statement on the day of the vote. “The legislation passed today doesn’t get us there but the Governor looks forward to working with the Senate to see if we can get it done.”

Layon, the bill’s sponsor, said she’s repeatedly reached out to the Sununu’s office in recent months to discuss provisions of the proposal. But so far she’s been snubbed by the governor, even as his office communicates with other lawmakers about the bill.

“The bill that passed the House reflects the Governor’s guidelines as I understood them, until his last minute embrace of a franchise model,” she told Marijuana Moment last week. “I made dozens of attempts to meet with the Governor and his staff to get into the policy details, but the best meeting I achieved was a walk-and-talk with him through the halls of the Capitol.”

The situation has pitted Republicans against Republicans, with Layon and supporters at odds with Sununu and his allies in the Senate. Failure to reach agreement could threaten the legalization bill entirely despite what appears to be majority support for the policy change.

Last year Sununu said he supported a system of state-run retail stores, but lawmakers on a state study commission instead pivoted to the idea of a franchise system, which the governor has said he’s willing to entertain. But the study commission ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation, as it was initially charged to do.

Officials at the Liquor Commission have said it would be far less costly for private franchisees to build out a system of retail stores than to ask the Liquor Commission to take on that task itself.

Lawmakers worked extensively on marijuana reform issues last session and attempted to reach a compromise to enact legalization through a multi-tiered system that would include state-controlled shops, dual licensing for existing medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses privately licensed to individuals by state agencies. The legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation, however.

The Senate defeated a more conventional House-passed legalization bill last year, HB 639, despite its bipartisan support.

Last May, the House removed marijuana legalization language that was included in a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also moved to table another piece of legislation that month that would have allowed patients and designated caregivers to cultivate up to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings for personal therapeutic use.

After the Senate rejected the reform bills in 2022, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation—but that was also struck down in the opposite chamber.

Americans Use Marijuana At Nearly The Same Rate In Legal And Non-Legal States, Suggesting Criminalization Doesn’t ‘Curtail’ Consumption, Gallup Poll Finds

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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