BREAKING NEWS: Senate passes medicinal marijuana bill, 14 to 10


April 29, 2009
CONCORD — The 24-member state Senate passed the amended medicinal marijuana bill (HB 648) on Wednesday morning on a 14 to 10 roll call vote.

Co-sponsors Sen. John Gallus of Berlin, a Republican representing District 1, and Sen. Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth, a Democrat representing District 24, both voted "yes," serving as bookends for the recorded vote.

Rep. Evalyn Merrick of Lancaster, who represents Cos 2, was the bill's prime sponsor.

Asked for her reaction outside the Senate Chamber immediately following the vote, Rep. Merrick said that she was both relieved and ecstatic.

"I hoped it would pass today, but I also knew it could still involve long hard battles in the future," she said, noting that she had been surprised — and grateful — when Sen. Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester, a Democrat representing District 20, joined the "yes" column.

Since the Senate version included amendments that have not yet been approved by the House, which passed the original version by a 2-to-1 margin, the bill must now go back to the House.

Rep. Merrick heartily endorsed the Senate amendments, which she said had tightened up its restrictions, making it not only a better bill but also one with a greater chance of passing.

The House version would allow patients, with approval of their doctor, to receive a state registry identification card that would enable them — or a designated caregiver — to tend up to six plants and keep up to two ounces of marijuana for a limited period of time. The marijuana could then be used to ease the symptoms of a debilitating disease or treatment. Sale of any marijuana would be forbidden, but registered patients could legally provide plants or seeds to another registered patient.

The bill's Senate version adds restrictions forbidding the use of medical marijuana in any public place, work place, school, or jail, prevents anyone convicted of a drug-related crime of being named as a designated caregiver, and protects patients' privacy by limiting access to the state's registry.

It also sets up a study committee to look at a simpler, more protected system for providing medical marijuana to those who need it.

Attorney General Kelly Ayotte opposed passage of the bill.

Sen. Jack Barnes of Raymond, a Republican from District 17, read a letter from the AG aloud on the Senate floor that had also been signed by nine of the state's 10 county attorneys.

In her letter, Ms. Ayotte explained that she believes that passage of the bill would send the wrong message to New Hampshire's children.

Cos County Attorney Robert "Bob" Mekeel of Lancaster, who was elected in November, was the only one who did not sign the AG's letter. In a telephone interview on Wednesday evening, Mr. Mekeel explained that his job entails enforcing the law and not making it. In addition to that fundamental philosophical stance, the county attorney said he had been in practice for 25 years and had represented many clients who had been in accidents that left them suffering severe pain and that he believed that anything that could alleviate such pain should be made available.

"This is an issue on which reasonable people can differ, and something that is appropriate for our legislators to address," he said.

In his first significant vote since he won a Senate special election, Sen. Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro, a Republican of District 3, voted "no."

It is still unclear whether Gov. John Lynch plans to sign the bill if it comes to his desk.

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