The process of enacting medical marijuana in New Hampshire is officially underway.

An advisory committee charged with helping implement medicinal pot in the Granite State met Sept. 26 and promptly backed two proposed changes to the state’s marijuana law. It was the first meeting of the Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Advisory Council.

Withholding Marijuana Cards

Patients shouldn’t expect to start toking legally anytime soon, though. State officials don’t expect to start issuing registry cards until the second half of next year. The Department of Health and Human Services has until July 23, 2014 to complete the rules under which cards will be issued. They must then be approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.

Without cards, patients are still subject to arrest and prosecution, regardless of the medical weed law – leaving them in a dangerous legal limbo.

“If it’s possible to get them done sooner, I think people would be happy, but I expect that we’re going to need to take a whole lot more time for that,” Mike Holt, rules coordinator for the DHHS, said at the committee meeting.

Others on the advisory panel, including cannabis advocates, said they want the process to move faster so patients don’t have to wait.

“We want to get them the protection that they need as soon as possible,” said Devon Chaffee, a member of the committee and executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

Opening Dispensaries

Once cards are in place, it will be another few months before dispensaries will open. There will be four throughout the state, and the rules governing them must be ready by Jan. 23, 2015. After those rules have been approved, pot shops will open.marijuana-leaf-sky

Committee members voted to support two relatively minor proposed changes to the state’s pot law. One would affect how long the state can hold onto dispensary applications before approving or denying them. The other would remove privacy protections for dispensaries that officials say are impossible to enforce.

Pot Legalization in New Hampshire

This summer, New Hampshire became the 19th state to enact medical marijuana. There are now 20 in total, including two – Colorado and Washington – that allow recreational weed.

Two earlier attempts to legalize medical pot, in 2009 and 2012, failed when then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed them. Then, this July, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed HB 573 and made pot legal for patients suffering from a list of conditions, from cancer and Alzheimer’s disease to HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

Patients are allowed to possess up to two ounces of pot, but only after they’ve tried other treatments and seen the same doctor for at least 90 days. The law initially contained a home-grow provision, but it was struck before Hassan signed the bill, forcing patients to rely on scattered dispensaries that may be hard for many to reach.

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