If a person you love is struggling with a serious medical condition and it becomes clear that modern medicine does not have all the answers, you might find that you will do anything you can — even break the law if necessary — to alleviate that person’s suffering.
I am very familiar with this subject because my wife, Cindy, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer twenty-five years ago, and our lives certainly haven’t been the same since. The prognosis was very bleak, but we were lucky to be selected for a clinical trial that showed promise. Unfortunately, the treatments made Cindy very nauseous and robbed her of her ability to eat.
At the time, therapeutic cannabis was not yet legal in New Hampshire, but a nurse suggested that we try to find some anyway. If Cindy couldn’t maintain a healthy weight, she wouldn’t have been able to continue the treatments. So we broke the law and found some cannabis, and I am pleased to report that it worked wonders.
It was this experience that led me to become an advocate for therapeutic cannabis in New Hampshire. In 2012, a bill passed our House and Senate that would have allowed qualified patients — and caregivers like me — to grow limited amounts of cannabis. Sadly, the bill was vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch and there was not enough support to override the veto.
Later that year, I decided to run for the House and was elected in November along with a new governor, Maggie Hassan, who had promised to support medical cannabis. As a freshman representative in 2013, I was honored to serve as a cosponsor of HB 573, which passed the House in an overwhelming 286-64 vote and proceeded to the Senate with strong momentum.
A few weeks after the bill passed the House, I was joined by several other patients and advocates for a meeting in the governor’s office. One after another, we thanked the governor for her support and explained to her that the home cultivation piece of HB 573 was especially important to those of us who couldn’t afford to wait for dispensaries to get up and running. We also expressed our fear that cannabis from dispensaries would not be affordable.
Gov. Hassan appeared to listen, but she later informed senators that she would veto the bill if the home cultivation provision remained. And even though the Senate had voted to allow home cultivation in the previous year, her veto threat proved to be insurmountable. The Senate had little choice but to amend HB 573 into a very restrictive bill that would maintain felony penalties against home cannabis cultivation.
More than two years later, patients were still waiting for legal protections. In late 2015, a terminally ill cancer patient sued the state and forced it to issue the first ID card, but the delays didn’t stop there — a legislative performance audit recently found that the program has been failing to issue ID cards in a timely fashion, as required by law, since its inception.
After the dispensaries finally opened, Cindy and I were dismayed to find that the costs were nearly double what we could find on the street. At $425 per ounce, maintaining a consistent supply would be like adding the equivalent of a new car payment to our budget.
I tried sponsoring legislation that would add home cultivation to the law, and the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of these bills in 2014 and 2016, but they were killed by the Senate. Sadly, although we love New Hampshire, this summer we moved to Maine in order to drastically reduce our monthly expenses.
Ironically, we had no choice but to leave the “Live Free or Die” state in order to take care of our own medical needs without fear of arrest and prosecution. And we aren’t the only ones who have felt compelled to do so — far from it.
My former colleagues in the legislature will have another opportunity to do the right thing for patients when they vote on HB 364, a bipartisan bill that would allow limited home cultivation. Gov. Sununu vetoed the bill in July, and the House is scheduled to vote on the veto override on Wednesday, September 18.
It’s not possible to turn back the clock and help the patients who suffered needlessly during the early years of this inadequate program, but passing HB 364 into law would certainly help patients who are struggling in the here and now. As a former legislator who has spoken to countless patients who could benefit from HB 364, I sincerely hope that this will be the year the legislature finally lives up to its motto on this important issue.