By Jason McLure
LITTLETON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - New Hampshire is set to become the final state in New England to allow medical marijuana after negotiators from the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House agreed Tuesday on a bill backed by Governor Maggie Hassan.
The law would allow up to four marijuana dispensaries to open as soon as 2015. Patients with cancer, HIV, glaucoma and other diseases would be eligible to purchase the drug with state-issued identity cards from a physician or nurse practitioner certifying that they need it to soothe pain.
"Allowing doctors to provide relief to patients through the use of appropriately regulated and dispensed medical marijuana is the compassionate and right policy for the State of New Hampshire," Hassan, a Democrat, said in a statement.
The compromise "addresses the concerns that I have heard and expressed throughout this session, and provides the level of regulation needed for the use of medical marijuana," she added.
Both legislative bodies must vote on the compromise language in the coming weeks, though that is seen as a formality given Hassan's support.
A provision in a version of the bill passed by the New Hampshire House that would have allowed patients to cultivate their own marijuana was stripped from the compromise bill, said Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the bill.
The compromise bill also bars the use of medical marijuana for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and limits most caregivers - who can get marijuana prescriptions filled on a patient's behalf - to treating five medical marijuana patients at any one time.
"It's very restrictive in limiting access to only four points of distribution," said Simon. "We may find that's not sufficient access, but it's at least a start"
The move to legalize medical marijuana in New Hampshire advanced after Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, left office in January after eight years. He had repeatedly vetoed medical marijuana bills passed by the legislature. The state, known for a libertarian streak, is unusual in that such measures have repeatedly won support from large numbers of Republicans in the state's legislature.
Nationwide, 19 states plus the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws, according to the pro-legalization National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)
(This story corrects seventh paragraph to show caregivers, not medical providers, limited to five medical marijuana patients at one time)