A medical marijuana treatment center is slated to come to the southwestern part of New Hampshire, but details on when it could be here are still scarce.
As the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services considers 14 applications to establish four treatment centers across the state, the agency has prioritized a dispensary for Cheshire and Sullivan counties, because of a concern that vendors might not otherwise come to the area, according to Eric D. Borrin, director of contracts and procurement at the department. House: Best Carrier Promo ROS 2015
State regulations were tweaked to incentivize treatment centers to come to the western part of the state, including a rule that will allow the company that builds a dispensary in this area to also build one in a more populated region of the state, Borrin said.
The four dispensaries in New Hampshire will be in the northern, central, east and western regions.
For medical marijuana advocates and patients who could benefit, the dispensaries are a long time coming in New Hampshire. The state has been the slowest in New England to pass medical marijuana legislation, and still has not passed a provision for home-grow. Connecticut and New Hampshire are the only states in New England that don’t allow qualifying patients to grow their own plants.
Some advocates think even though dispensaries are coming, they won’t do enough to address the need.
“New Hampshire has by far the most draconian marijuana laws in New England and the least friendly medical marijuana law,” said Matthew Simon, New England director for national advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project.
And Simon said he’s worried that the $80,000 annual fee the state asks dispensaries to pay will translate to high costs for patients.
“There’s just no guarantee that dispensaries can sell cannabis to these patients at reasonable prices,” he said, adding he believes some patients may still try to buy marijuana illegally instead of paying higher costs at dispensaries.
The fee is so high because the department had no funding to start the state’s medical marijuana program and needs enough to make the program self-sustaining, according to the program’s rules coordinator, Michael Holt.
Sara Gullickson, vice president of sales for national medical marijuana consulting group MariMed Advisors said the high price is a difficult thing to contend with, but she believes that in New Hampshire, it’s necessary.
“It’s a stressor for the government agency as well,” she said. “If that’s what they have to do … it’s not that I agree with it, but I also don’t disagree with it.”
Gullickson’s company is working with vendors who want to open dispensaries in New Hampshire, but she declined to name them or say how many MariMed is working with.
Potential dispensaries already have a long list of rules to follow from the state human services department. Dispensaries will have to cultivate hundreds of their own marijuana plants on site, sometimes growing five or more strains tailored to different kinds of ailments.
Gullickson said her group is committed to making sure dispensaries “really turn it into a medical experience” for patients. Many treatment centers would have a doctor on their boards of directors and have spaces in the center for patients to discuss private medical conditions with staff.
The centers will treat patients with conditions including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, severe pain or traumatic brain injury. Bills from the state Legislature may add more conditions to the list.
State Rep. Larry Phillips, D-Keene, says he supports the direction New Hampshire is taking with medical marijuana in dispensaries, although he thinks it’s been slow to get here.
“Definitely,” he said, when asked if he thinks the state has lagged in passing legislation for medical pot. “I think a lot of people could be using it.”
Phillips is one of those people who could benefit from medical marijuana; he has multiple sclerosis.
Though Phillips is sponsoring a House bill to study legalizing recreational marijuana, he does not support the idea of home-grow.
“My gut reaction is that when you allow it to be grown, then it opens it up beyond strictly medical use,” he said.
Simon thinks otherwise.
“A lot of people have a really hard time understanding why it’s still a felony to grow a couple of plants,” he said.
The other sticking point that politicians and medical marijuana advocates agree on has to do with money.
Even though marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use in various states, possessing it is still considered a crime under federal law. That’s a problem when dispensaries want to deposit their money in a bank. Federal regulations make it difficult, and many banks shy away from the marijuana industry.
That leaves many dispensaries dealing with a cash-only business, according to Gullickson.
The New York Times recently released a short documentary on Colorado’s recreational pot industry, where growers have to transport bags of cash to secure, undisclosed locations in lieu of a bank.
“Some (banks) are willing to take that money and some are not,” she said, adding that her organization and others are lobbying for the federal government to change the law, for the safety of those in the industry.
Attempts to contact two local police chiefs to discuss potential law enforcement issues of an area dispensary were unsuccessful.
Holt says state officials are aware of the money issue, but there’s not much in New Hampshire’s law that addresses it.
But despite that, now that New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law has been passed, Holt believes the process of setting up the dispensaries is taking time, but going well.
“We’ve met those goals on time and earlier, in fact, for some of those items,” he said, referring to the timeline for getting the dispensaries up and running. “We’re as invested in this being a successful program as anyone else.”
Ella Nilsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-1234, extension 1409. Follow her on Twitter @ENilsenKS.