Work to implement NH medical marijuana law begins

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A committee helping to implement the state’s new medical marijuana law started its work on Thursday by supporting two proposed changes to the law.

The law, passed three months ago, will allow seriously ill patients diagnosed with cancer, Crohn’s disease and other conditions to have up to 2 ounces of marijuana obtained from dispensaries. It also created a 15-member committee to help the state write rules to implement the law and track how it works.

On Thursday, members backed two revisions that lawmakers will consider later — one regarding how much time the state will have to approve or deny applications from patient caregivers and the other regarding confidentiality of the dispensaries’ locations.

Attorney John Williams, representing the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the law specified that the state would have 15 days to act on caregiver applications but the required criminal background checks would take longer than that. He initially proposed changing the language to say applications would be approved or denied “within 15 days and the criminal history records check results,” but New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union executive director Devon Chaffee objected. Chaffee pointed out that that could allow the department to hang onto an application indefinitely, depending on when it sent information to state police for the criminal records check.

Williams agreed to add a provision requiring the department to submit the information to state police within five days, and the committee agreed.

The second proposed change would remove a section of the law that would keep information about the locations of possible dispensaries confidential except under limited circumstances. Most troublesome, Williams said, was a provision that said the location could be disclosed to towns and city officials provided they kept the information confidential. That would be impossible, he said, given that the zoning process is public.

The group also reviewed its responsibilities and key deadlines, including a July 2014 deadline for adopting rules for patient identification cards and a January 2015 deadline for issuing certifications to treatment centers.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas said the law will be implemented like a business plan for a new company.

“We’re in the unique position of saying this is a blank piece of paper,” he said. “We have to create it from scratch.”

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