Override Lynch’s med marijuana veto

Unless you hid under a rock all summer, you know most Americans don’t want government interference in their health care.

Democrats and Republicans may have their differences, but there is universal agreement that decisions regarding medical treatments must be exclusively between the doctor and patient. If a doctor and patient agree on a particular course of treatment, then the patient should be permitted to access that treatment, and neither the government nor insurance companies should have any business blocking this process. All agree?

Well, then, it’s easy to understand why the vast majority of Granite Staters disagree with Governor Lynch’s veto of the medical marijuana bill. The House and Senate agreed that government should not stand between doctors and seriously ill patients who could benefit from medical marijuana, and both chambers voted to pass House Bill 648 with solid margins of support, but that may not be enough to get these patients the protection and access they deserve.

A final vote to override the veto comes up Oct. 28, and with two-thirds majorities required in both chambers, it is expected to be very close.

It should be a slam dunk.

A 2008 Mason-Dixon poll showed that 71 percent of New Hampshire voters support allowing seriously and terminally ill patients to access medical marijuana for personal use if their doctors recommend it. Only 21 percent were opposed. Legislators have no need to look for political cover.

Fortunately, the committee members who actually heard the testimony from those afflicted with serious illnesses have become strong supporters of the bill. They actually listened to patients, gave the issue fair study, and worked hard to pass a tightly-crafted, exceptionally responsible bill. 

By contrast, Governor Lynch chose not to meet with any of the seriously ill patients who had been so instrumental in convincing the House and Senate. 

In light of this, his veto was unfortunate, but not a great surprise. The only good news for patients is that this veto can and should be overridden.

Legislators who are still on the fence, those not on the committees who heard from afflicted citizens, now owe it to their constituents to make an effort to listen to patients. If they hear the perspective of their constituents in need of this now-denied medicine, it will change their minds, I guarantee.

There is no question that medical marijuana is effective at alleviating the pain associated with various debilitating conditions. These include cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, muscle spasms, Hepatitis C and others.

There is no question marijuana clearly does have therapeutic value. The American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of HIV Medicine, the Lymphoma Society, as well as several state medical societies, support allowing the medical use of marijuana.

Some readers may not know that very recently I had Hepatitis C. For more than half of patients with Hep C, the biggest problem is keeping them on the interferon and ribavirin. I surely know why — the side effects are truly awful.

Most Hepatitis C patients must endure at least one grueling 48-week course, often two. If I’d had to do another six months of that brutal treatment, I probably would have given up and just taken my chances. There is ample evidence that Hep C patients who use marijuana are more able to stay on their treatment and clear the virus.

As of now, many seriously ill Granite Staters are forced to make a terrible decision: continue to suffer, miss days at work, risk losing their job, or obtain marijuana illegally and risk arrest and prison. That’s nuts.

We should stop wasting time and resources on going after sick people and focus on real crime. What do we have to gain by denying those who could benefit from the use of medical marijuana the opportunity to do so?

Regardless of party affiliation, the overwhelming majority of New Hampshire voters agree that doctors, not police officers and bureaucrats, should be the ones deciding what constitutes effective medicine.

State senator from 1990 to 2004, Burt Cohen now hosts a radio talk show. His Web site is www.burtcohen.com.

Categories: Opinion