Home-grown pot for medical patients wins gathers steam

Kevin Landrigan, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·3 min read

Mar. 17—CONCORD — The lengthy campaign to permit therapeutic cannabis patients to grow their own marijuana got a boost Wednesday with the operators of three dispensaries endorsing the idea.

A leading advocate for the Marijuana Policy Project said after the hearing that he's optimistic this House-passed bill (HB 350) could pass the upper chamber.

"It's important for patients to know that the dispensaries are not advocating against their interests, so I see this as a huge step forward for the therapeutic cannabis program," said Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst for the MPP.

In all likelihood, however, supporters will have to overcome a veto from Gov. Chris Sununu.

Sununu vetoed a similar bill in 2019, as did former Gov. John Lynch, a four-term Democrat, in 2012.

Lawmakers have been trying since 2009 to pass this legislation. In 2009 and 2013, supporters had taken this provision out of a related medical marijuana bill so that bill would not be vetoed.

A majority of the GOP-led Senate has come out against legalizing recreational use of pot, but Simon said some Republican senators have endorsed the home-grown concept in the past.

This version would allow patients or their caregivers to grow three adult plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings for the use of only for one patient.

Lee Cooper is administrator at Sanctuary ATL (Alternative Treatment Center), which runs a dispensary in Merrimack.

"We are strong advocates of patients' rights," Cooper told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. "Many patients have expressed their desire to grow their own. New Hampshire patients are still not permitted to do so. This will increase access to all qualifying patients in New Hampshire."

Temescal Wellness runs dispensaries in Dover and Lebanon while Sanctuary ATC has one in Plymouth.

New this spring

State officials said there are plans in the works to open locations in Chichester and Keene this spring.

Several patients who take marijuana for chronic conditions said its cost hasn't changed since first offered for sale in 2014.

The average cost is $350 per ounce.

"I am the type of patient who doesn't have the ability to access medication that is vital to my day-to-day life," said Grant Ellis, a disabled and homebound patient. "I recognize it is a byproduct of the market conditions."

State Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, said the cost of the drug could be reduced if the Legislature passes a related bill (SB 38) that would allow these dispensaries to be for-profit businesses.

The Senate passed this bill last month on an 18-6 vote.

Bedford Police Chief John J. Bryfonski said the chiefs' lobby opposes this bill because it doesn't contain robust enforcement needed to police it.

Police in Ontario, Canada have seized 170,000 illegal home-cultivated plants since the province legalized the recreational sale of pot in 2018.

"They are struggling now to contain the proliferation of home cultivation that is on the precipice of destroying the commercial market for marijuana," Bryfonski said.

State Rep. Dennis Acton, R-Fremont and the bill's prime sponsor, said existing law makes it a felony for anyone growing marijuana to sell it to anyone.

klandrigan@unionleader.com