The federal government will no longer prosecute individuals who use small amounts of marijuana to alleviate pain or to improve their appetite, regardless of state law, New Hampshire U.S. attorney John Kacavas said in a statement on Tuesday. Kacavas’ announcement comes as a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana in New Hampshire is back in the state house following a veto by Gov. John Lynch, D-N.H. State representatives from both parties said that Kacavas’ announcement will have little effect on whether the bill eventually becomes law.
“Federal resources are better reserved for larger scale drug dealers and consumers of drugs,” Kacavas said in his statement.
Federal law still declares any use of marijuana illegal, Kacavas said, but it will be up to each state to decide whether to prosecute medical users.
New Hampshire’s marijuana bill originally passed in the state’s House of Representatives in June, but was vetoed by Lynch last Friday. The bill called for the establishment of three “compassion centers” to dispense two ounces of marijuana every 10 days to severely ill patients whose doctors approve use of the drug.
“Governor Lynch has a number of concerns, including the many inconsistencies and structural problems in the bill,” Colin Manning, Lynch’s press secretary, said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “While he remains open to tightly controlled medical marijuana, the bill would greatly complicate efforts to prevent unauthorized use.”
Another vote on the state bill is scheduled for Oct. 28. Although the outcome of any attempted override will depend on which representatives show up for the vote, it is possible that the House will attain the needed two-thirds majority, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a very close race,” Rep. David Hess, R-Merrimack, told The Dartmouth. “It depends on how many show up and how many people vote.”
If the state House successfully overrides Lynch’s veto, New Hampshire would become the 14th state to legalize marijuana for use by severely ill patients.
Kacavas’ statement will likely not have much of an effect on how state representatives vote, according to Rep. Thomas Donovan, D-Sullivan.
“People have already made up their minds,” Donovan, a co-sponsor of the bill, said.
Donovan said the bill’s writers intentionally made it as strict as possible in an effort to assuage concerns. Details on how the state would regulate the compassion centers and how each center would operate are still up for discussion, he said.
“You would have to get into day-to-day nuances of how to run the program, and I believe that degree of specificity has not been brought up yet,” Donovan said.
Hess cited other states’ failed attempts to implement similar “compassion centers” as a reason to not pass the bill in New Hampshire.
“California is the most notorious, and the legalization has become grossly misused,” Hess said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Donovan, however, argued that New Hampshire’s bill calls for tighter control over the distribution process than any other program in the nation.
Hess maintained that there are a very limited number of medical conditions that justify use of marijuana as a treatment, adding that, even in those cases, there is still serious debate in the medical community about the merit of prescribing the drug.
Hess also said he was concerned about how law enforcement would operate if the bill passed in New Hampshire. Because federal law still declares any usage of marijuana illegal, Hess said, passing the bill would create a discrepancy between federal and state law.