A New Hampshire Senate committee on Wednesday heard testimony on a House-passed bill to allow medical marijuana patients to grow a limited number of plants for personal use. And unlike in past sessions, this time the legislation is being backed by all three of the state’s licensed cannabis centers.
Rep. Dennis Acton (R) is sponsoring the measure, HB 350, which would enable registered patients to cultivate up to six plants (only three of which could be mature) and 12 seedlings. The bill moved out of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee in a 20-1 vote last month and then cleared the full chamber in a voice vote on the consent calendar.
The idea of letting patients grow their own medical cannabis has a long history in the New Hampshire legislature, with differing versions having been introduced going back to 2009. Historically, the state’s alternative treatment centers (ATCs), which operate a total of five dispensaries, have either opposed or remained neutral on the reform.
That isn’t the case this round. Prime ATC, Sanctuary ATC and Temescal Wellness all testified in favor of the legislation on Wednesday in front of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
“We believe registered patients and caregivers should be able to cultivate cannabis in their own homes under the provisions included in this bill, which do include significant safeguards,” Prime ATC CEO Keenan Blum, whose company was previously neutral on the issue, said. “The ability to cultivate cannabis at home would be valuable to many patients whether due to cost, access to specific strains or the ability to easily access an ATC, as we are not always close to them.”
He also urged the panel to adopt an amendment that would require regulators to inform patients about the importance of testing home cultivated cannabis for contaminants.
Sanctuary ATC used to be explicitly opposed to permitting home cultivation. In 2019, a lobbyist the company hired testified to a Senate committee that giving patients that option would effectively represent a breach of an agreement that the state government made with cannabis licensees, which invested significant capital into the medical cannabis program under the impression that patients wouldn’t be allow to grow their own and would, therefore, have to spend their money at dispensaries.
But following outcry from patients and advocates, the company’s CEO said it amounted to a misunderstanding. Now, in 2021, it’s proactively advocating for the home grow policy change.
“We’re strong advocates of patients’ rights, and we believe that qualifying patients and designated caregivers should have the opportunity to cultivate their own therapeutic cannabis,” a Sanctuary ATC representative said. “Many patients have expressed their desire to be able to cultivate their own therapeutic cannabis and do not understand why cannabis patients in states surrounding New Hampshire have long been able to cultivate their own cannabis, yet New Hampshire patients are still not permitted to do so. We believe House Bill 350 will also help increase access to all the qualifying patients in New Hampshire.”
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A representative of Temescal Wellness testified that the company is supporting the legislation because it “has always focused our operations and efforts around patient wellness and safe access, and we do believe that allowing patients and caregivers the right to grow their own therapeutic cannabis at home with the restrictions and guidelines laid out in this bill.”
Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that patients “were very relieved to hear that all three of the state’s alternative treatment centers voiced support for the bill.”
“It’s important for patients to know that the dispensaries are not advocating against their interests, so this is an important step forward for the therapeutic cannabis program,” he said. “Maintaining felony penalties for home cultivation is completely unacceptable in a state that puts ‘Live Free or Die’ on its license plates. Now that all three dispensaries are in favor of HB 350, there is no good reason for senators or Governor Sununu to remain opposed.”
To that point, the governor did veto a home grow bill in 2019 after it cleared the legislature. The House voted to override that veto, but the Senate did not reach the two-thirds majority to enact the legislation over Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) objection. It remains unclear what he would do if the reform proposal reaches his desk again this year.
Other outstanding questions concern how Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Jeb Bradley (R) or Sen. Kevin Avard (R) will vote when they take it back up for action, which could happen as early as next Wednesday. Bradley has spoken in favor of home cultivation on the floor in the past, but he’s voted against the policy change in past sessions. Avard, meanwhile, voted for a home grow bill in 2012 during his time in the House, but he hasn’t supported the policy while in the Senate.
Beyond home cultivation, legislation has also been introduced this session that would legalize marijuana for adult use. But with Republicans now in control of both chambers of the legislature following November’s election, that proposal faces steep challenges. Sununu also opposes the comprehensive reform.
The House did pass a legalization bill last year, but it died in committee.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.