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N.H. Senate passes bill legalizing medical marijuana

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire could soon join 18 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing seriously ill people to use marijuana in their medical treatment.

The Senate voted 18 to 6 Thursday to pass a bill legalizing marijuana use and possession by patients with cancer and conditions such as Crohn’s disease. The bill goes back to the House, which is expected to ask to negotiate a compromise.

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Senators bowed to Governor Maggie Hassan’s wishes and eliminated the option for ­patients to grow the drug at home as well as to obtain it at a dispensary. The House bill provides both options. Supporters of the home-grow option ­argue it is crucial to ensure ­immediate access for terminally ill patients.

Hassan, who supported both options when she was in the Senate, says she will not sign a medical marijuana bill with a home-grow provision, citing concerns about the state’s ability to regulate such operations.

The Senate passed a rewritten version of the proposal striking the home-grow option and making other changes ­requested by the governor.

Among the changes were remov­ing post-traumatic stress disorder from the list of ­approved conditions and decreas­ing the number of dispensaries sanctioned from five to four. It also would require patients to have a state-issued ID card to invoke an affirmative defense clause meant to protect medical users from being ­arrested and convicted of marijuana crimes.

To qualify for medical marijuana, a person would have to have been a patient of the prescribing doctor for at least 90 days, have tried other remedies, and have exhibited certain symptoms. Only state residents would qualify.

‘‘All of us recognize it has been proven to provide relief from pain and suffering,’’ said Senator Martha Fuller Clark, Democrat of Portsmouth.

Patients could possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana. Dispensaries could have a maximum of 80 marijuana plants, 160 seedlings and 80 ounces of marijuana or 6 ounces per qualifying patient. They also would have a limit of three mature cannabis plants, 12 seedlings, and 6 ounces for each patient who designates the dispensary as his or her treatment center.

It would take the state close to a year to write the regulations for dispensaries and could take another year or more for them to begin operations.

Only one dispensary has opened in New Jersey, which has a dispensary-only model and passed its law in 2010. That location is struggling to keep up with the demands of more than 700 patients, with waiting periods of two months or more.

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