CONCORD, N.H. – At 27, Clayton Holton of Rochester is 5 feet 11 but weighs only 66 pounds. He suffers from a rare form of muscular dystrophy that causes complete muscle loss. He’s been in a wheelchair since he was 10. He struggles even to eat.

Six years ago, he ended up in a hospital and then a nursing home where he was given OxyContin. Then friends helped him visit California, where medical use of marijuana is legal. He started using it for pain relief, and he gained eight pounds.

Now, when he needs relief, he reaches for marijuana.

“When I have it, I am able to keep my appetite up and take a lot less opiate painkillers than without it,” he said.

That isn’t always possible given the drug’s illegal status, but Holton and others in New Hampshire who say marijuana eases debilitating health issues have new hope. Gov. John Lynch’s vetoes stymied lawmakers’ approval of medicinal marijuana in recent years, but with the new governor’s blessing, the state could become the 19th to legalize the use of the drug.

The issue has widespread legislative support. Both earlier bills restricted distribution only to people with debilitating or terminal conditions, and there is consensus that whatever model is adopted must have strict controls on access to the drug.

Four years ago when she was a state senator, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan voted to override one of the vetoes, which legalized the use of marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. She still supports tightly controlled, medicinal use of marijuana, spokesman Marc Goldberg said.

Last year, another bill passed that allowed individuals to grow a limited amount of marijuana for medicinal use in a secure location. Again, Lynch vetoed it, and senators failed to muster the votes to override Lynch’s veto to send it to the House for a vote.

One new bill would allow up to five alternative treatment centers to dispense marijuana to patients as well as allow patients to grow small amounts for personal use, or to designate a caregiver to grow it for them. Both options are needed because access to a dispensary might be difficult and more expensive for some, said the bill’s prime sponsor, state Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter.

Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro said his position has changed over time to supporting legalizing medicinal uses if it is tightly controlled. He favors the dispensary model with tight controls on who gets the drug to avoid abuse.

“If I had to bet money, I’d say something probably passes, but I wouldn’t bet a lot of money. It will be close,” said Senate President Peter Bragdon of Milford.


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