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Rep. Evalyn Merrick seeks to override medical marijuana veto today


October 28, 2009
CONCORD — Rep. Evalyn Merrick, a Democrat of Lancaster, continues her fight to help severely ill patients in New Hampshire to legally obtain and use marijuana. Ms. Merrick has worked to enact legislation — HB 648 — that would allow for the drug to be used under strict conditions to alleviate their pain, suffering and other side effects.

This morning Rep. Merrick will move that the House override the Governor's veto of her bill, which twice passed both the House and Senate at an earlier date in a special session known as "Veto Day," that starts at 10 a.m. Three bills that Gov. Lynch vetoed will be brought up in numerical order, with HB 648 taking the middle slot.

It takes a two-thirds vote of those present to overturn a veto.

"I remain optimistic that those legislators and Senators who voted in favor of HB 648 not once, but twice, will once again vote on behalf of compassion, remaining consistent in their support for those citizens who need the relief this bill will provide," Rep. Merrick wrote in an email exchange.

"I have received many correspondences from members of our community who are themselves suffering — or are speaking on behalf of family members who are suffering — from a variety of severe, debilitating medical conditions and who have found no relief from traditional, commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals.

"They are desperate for something that will help mitigate their suffering and are confident that cannabis (marijuana), when used according to their doctor's recommendation — and within the strict guidelines of the law — will be that 'something.'

"If HB 648 passes, there will finally be hope for that much-needed relief, and it will be available from a legal, controlled, safe, environment, overseen by the State of New Hampshire."

Rep. Merrick sent a letter to her fellow House members seeking their understanding of why the bill's passage is so important to severely ill patients.

"Everyone has been touched by physical and emotional suffering due to a chronic condition or disease, whether it be through a family member, a friend, a seat-mate or yourself," she wrote.

"Many of you know I am challenged with an incurable form of blood cancer. The treatments I endured during a bone marrow transplant and related rounds of chemotherapy created side effects that prescribed pharmaceuticals couldn't mitigate. I almost lost the fight due to malnutrition and dehydration until someone suggested cannabis. Only a small and limited amount was needed to jump-start the engine. As a result, I am able to help fight for those who may not be able to fight for themselves. I ask you to put aside fear, inaccurate information, and preconceived notions. Please don't discount the suffering of many of our constituents.

"Twice the house passed this bill based on policy. Twice the Senate passed it. It is time to forget politics and join the voices of those who voted on behalf of compassion.

"I ask you to support the override on behalf of those constituents who have sent you here to protect them. I ask you to be compassionate. I ask you to pass this very critical piece of legislation because the next patient in need may be you, or your loved one, or any of the people we are privileged to serve. I ask you to do this now, not next year. "Suffering knows no time limit. Please give relief and hope a chance and help me to override the Governor's veto of HB 648."

Rep. Merrick's letter also emphasized the key differences between the bill for which she is the prime sponsor and the one in effect in California that has been much in the news.

"It is important to understand that this HB 648 is very different from the bill adopted in California, and, in fact, is the strictest medical marijuana legislation in the country," she said, pointing out the numerous ways in which HB 648 avoids creating loopholes and provides for three Compassion Centers that are designed to allow a legal, controlled method of obtainment to ensure a consistent, high-quality medicine where patients would be able to receive a limited amount of cannabis within the limit of the law without authorizing patients to grow plants in their own homes.

Rep. Merrick also pointed out that she has been greatly heartened by the new three-page policy memo issued to prosecutors earlier this month by the U. S. Department of Justice that says that "marijuana-using patients or their sanctioned suppliers should not be targeted for federal prosecution in states that allow for the use of medical marijuana."

The Oct. 19 memo, written by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue and states that it is not a good use of federal dollars to prosecute those who are clearly in compliance with state law.

(The Justice Department memo on medical marijuana is available on the Internet at:

http://blogs.usdoj.gov/blog/archives/192.)

In his veto message, Gov. Lynch explained that after consulting with representatives of the appropriate state agencies and law enforcement officials, he believes the bill has "too many defects to move forward."

He points out that "marijuana is an addictive drug that has the potential to pose significant health dangers to its users, and it remains the most widely abused illegal drug in this state." His message concludes: "I understand and empathize with the advocates for allowing medical marijuana use in New Hampshire. However, the fact remains that marijuana use for any purpose remains illegal under federal law. Therefore, if we are to allow its use in New Hampshire for medical purposes, we must ensure that we are implementing the right policy. We cannot set a lower bar for medical marijuana than we do for other controlled substances, and we cannot implement a law that still has serious flaws."

Today's 10 a.m. House action will be available on live streaming video: www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/media/default.htm, according to House public information officer Cissy Taylor.

The Senate meets at 11 a.m. today to take up the one Senate bill the governor vetoed. If the Senate overrides that, it would come to the House for action. Any bills that the House overrides will go to the Senate for action this morning.

Tiffany Eddy
Martin Lord Osman
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