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Change In N.H.'s Medical Marijuana Law Expands Access For Some New Patients

Dank Depot via Flickr CC

A new law allows medical marijuana patients to get prescriptions without first having a three-month relationship with their doctor or medical provider.

Governor Chris Sununu vetoed the bill, but the Legislature overturned that veto last week. 

The law eliminates the requirement of a three-month provider-patient relationship before a patient is certified and gets their registry identification.

Mike Holt, administrator of the state’s therapeutic cannabis program, says the change will make cannabis more accessible for some new patients.

“We don’t know how that’s going to impact patients on the ground," he says. "For certain patients, certainly, it will allow them to access the program more quickly if their providers are unwilling to certify them.”

As of June 30, there are 8,302 people enrolled in the state's therapeutic cannabis program. That report will be updated late this year, but the number of patients is about 1,000 more than a year ago.

In vetoing the bill, Sununu said he was concerned about maintaining responsible prescribing practices. Some opponents also said some patients would engage in "doctor shopping" to find a provider willing to prescribe cannabis. 

The House minority report on the bill raised the recent, unsuccessful push for marijuana legalization in New Hampshire: "The Minority is concerned that some providers who are in favor of recreational marijuana may grant certification to anyone wishing it, so as to foster recreational marijuana by the back door."

Advocates for therapeutic cannabis said it makes no sense for a doctor to wait three months when there is no such waiting period for prescription opioids.

And last week, bill co-sponsor Sen. Tom Sherman, who is a doctor, panned the three-month window as akin to "malpractice." [Related: 5 Marijuana Bills Passed in N.H. This Year]

Holt notes the three month provider-patient relationship has been a hallmark of the program since its inception.  The law did state two exceptions to the three-month relationship: in cases where the onset happened within three months, or in the case of a hospice enrollment or diagnosis.

The updated law takes effect Nov. 18.

Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.
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