The New Hampshire state legislature fell two votes short of legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana in a failed attempt to override the veto of Gov. John Lynch, D-N.H., on Oct. 28. State Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster, who sponsored the bill, told The Dartmouth that she plans to reintroduce the issue in the legislature’s next session.
Following direction from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, New Hampshire U.S. Attorney John Kacavas announced on Oct. 20 that he no longer plans to prosecutes individuals who use marijuana to relieve pain or to improve their appetite. The cases, however, can still be pursued at the state level.
The state Senate voted 14-10 to override the veto, failing to achieve the required two-thirds majority of 16 votes. The state House had voted 240-115 to approve the legislation over the governor’s objections, achieving the supermajority by three votes.
Had the legislation been approved, New Hampshire would have been the 14th state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.
The bill would have established three state-run “compassion centers,” which would have dispensed marijuana to patients who had been prescribed the drug by their physicians.
The state legislature originally passed the measure on April 29. Lynch vetoed the bill on July 10, citing concerns about “inconsistencies and structural problems” within the bill in a statement.
Lynch also said the bill would complicate efforts to prevent recreational marijuana use, Colin Manning, Lynch’s press secretary, previously told The Dartmouth.
Lynch and Manning could not be reached for comment on the Oct. 28 vote.
Danny Kim ’11, president of the Dartmouth College Republicans, echoed Lynch’s opposition.
“We understand Gov. Lynch’s concern that this legislation may open up the potential for recreational abuse,” Kim said.
State legislators who voted against the measure voiced similar objections.
“This is a terrible message to send to our children,” state Sen. Robert Letourneau, R-Derry, told The Boston Globe, referring to the legalization of medical marijuana.
Merrick told The Dartmouth that such objections are unfounded, as the bill would have tightly regulated marijuana distribution.
“It’s very clear that [opponents of the legislation] have not read the bill,” Merrick said. “If they did, they would understand that this is a far more restrictive measure and that it can in no way add to the amount of marijuana available on the streets.”
The bill’s proposed regulations were stricter than those currently in place in the 13 states that allow medicinal use of marijuana, said Matt Simon, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. He said that New Hampshire patients would not have been permitted to grow their own marijuana plants and that doctors would have been required to evaluate a patient for at least three months before prescribing marijuana therapy.
Merrick said she hopes to introduce a new version of the bill in the 2010 session of the state House, which begins in January. As the filing deadline for the next session has passed, Merrick must seek special permission to re-file the bill.
“If that’s not possible, then I will be bringing it back in 2011 and I’ll go after it then,” Merrick said.
Merrick said the state legislature has made “progress” on the issue since 2007, when a measure to legalize medicinal marijuana was defeated in the state House.
State Rep. David Pierce, D-Grafton, said he was “disappointed” by the result of the most recent vote, but added that he believes society is “evolving” to become more tolerant of medicinal marijuana use.
“In 2007 the bill didn’t pass at all it lost by a fairly narrow margin,” Pierce said. “In 2009, it passed with a pretty large margin, so in my mind we’re progressing.”
Merrick said she will work to “clear up any misconceptions” about the legislation and attempt to gain more bipartisan support.
“People should understand that this is about helping the people who need it the most, under the very controlled, restrictive conditions,” Merrick said. “We have to look beyond politics and consider the needs of the people.”
Multiple Republican state legislators did not respond to requests for comment by press time.