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Medical Marijuana Bill Loses Tight Vote In N.H. House


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A legislative move that would have allowed the chronically ill to use marijuana for a "medically debilitating" condition came up just nine votes shy of clearing the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The 186-177 count to kill the bill was closer than observers on both sides expected.

Supporters claim it's a sign their cause is gaining momentum.

"The leadership in both political parties was against this bill. The public's support for this is growing; the Legislature is lagging behind but they are beginning to catch up," said Matt Simon of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy.

Given how close Wednesday's vote was, and the 68 percent approval for the legislation among voters in a recent Becker Institute poll, the prospects for similar legislation are promising, said Stuart Cooper of the New Hampshire Marijuana Policy Initiative.

"This is sensible, compassionate legislation that protects our most vulnerable citizens," Cooper said. "But the close vote proves that it's only a matter of time before our elected officials give their constituents what they've asked for: an effective medical marijuana law that ensures nobody gets arrested just for battling life-threatening conditions."

Rep. Robert Bridgham, D-Eaton, said it would be foolhardy to approve the bill because marijuana possession in any amount remains illegal under federal law. "It can't deliver on the promise," he said.

Rep. Timothy Robertson, D-Keene, said state lawmakers are closer to the voters than Congress, and local and state police across the country do most marijuana busts. "We are deciding that it is medicine," he said.

In a related development, both sides predicted the House next week would kill legislation to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana.

NH Common Sense spokesman Simon said supporters hope to seek legislation next year that would reduce criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. "This year has been a real learning experience for us. We think there's a good chance the Legislature may support not decriminalization, but a more restrictive bill than this one," Simon said.

Rep. William Butyinski, D-Hinsdale, said the medical marijuana bill was too loosely written because it allowed citizens to grow three mature or four immature plants that produce as much as three ounces of marijuana.

Two doctors serving in the House came down on opposite sides.

Rep. William Chase, D-Westmoreland, a surgeon who said he's treated many cancer patients, supports the bill.

"The treatment of cancer pain is often difficult and the search for effective therapy is frequently elusive," Chase said.

Rep. Joseph Miller, D-Durham, said some pharmaceuticals are offering just as much relief from pain as marijuana. "My friends, marijuana is not penicillin, marijuana is not a cure for any disease," he said.

Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island are among the 11 states that have adopted laws permitting medical use of marijuana.

Rep. Evelyn Merrick, D-Lancaster, a cancer survivor, said prescription drugs to treat pain could be fatal and more addictive than marijuana.

Merrick said preventing this treatment option for patients in pain was "unethical, immoral and unconscionable."

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: Nashuatelegraph.com (New Hampshire)
Contact: klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com
Copyright: 2006 Telegraph Publishing Company
Website: Nashuatelegraph.com: Frontpage
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