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By Kevin Landrigan New Hampshire Union Leader

CONCORD — Republican legislative leaders want to limit the potency of medical cannabis given to anyone under 21, citing a federal advisory that the drug could pose a risk to the developing brains of younger users.

But the medical director for two of the state’s five Alternative Treatment Centers that dispense these products said higher potency marijuana ingested or smoked can deliver great relief to younger patients who suffer from seizures and syndrome disorders.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Robert Giuda, R-Warren, said he offered the legislation on the advice of outgoing U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

In 2019, Adams authored a report that concluded medicinal cannabis had varying concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main ingredient that contributes to intoxication and euphoria for users.

Adams warned the developing brains of those 12 to 25 years old could be impaired through frequent use of cannabis with high-potency THC, Giuda said.

Online sampling of four New Hampshire alternative treatment centers found 84% of products contain THC concentrations between 15% and 30%.

Giuda’s bill would create a limit of 10% THC content for users under 21 unless the patient’s health care provider confirmed to state health officials that the higher potency was warranted.

“This is an effort to protect our younger people,” Giuda said.

Kate Frey is vice president of advocacy for New Futures, a group supporting substance abuse recovery programs. “We need to be cognizant of the high level of THC sold in some varieties. All these centers that sell these products can have THC as high as 96 percent,” Frey said.

Some THC limits

Currently 13 states have some limits on THC content with some as low as 5% in states such as Georgia, Kansas and Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Michael Holt, administrator of the state’s Therapeutic Cannabis Program, said there are 10 New Hampshire minors under 17 who have a medical condition making them eligible to receive the controlled drug; another 53 between 18 and 20 are enrolled in the program.

The 63 to be covered under this bill represents .6 percent of the 10,688 in the state who are in the medical marijuana program then-Gov Maggie Hassan signed into law in 2013.

Sanctuary ATC operates dispensaries in Plymouth and Conway; the other three are in Dover, Merrimack and Lebanon.

Dr. David Syrek, medical director at Sanctuary ATC, said many parents of younger patients purchase the high-potency cannabis and then lower the THC concentration by baking the pot into cookies.

“If they cook it themselves, they can save hundreds of dollars,” Syrek said.

Other younger users take high-potency products because it reduces anxiety, violent outbursts and other symptoms among those suffering from Crohn’s Disease, Tourette’s Syndrome and other disorders, Syrek said.

“THC should not be demonized because if used correctly it can help a great deal for these severe syndrome disorders where other pharmaceuticals have failed,” Syrek said.

Holt said this would for the first time put health care providers in the business of “prescribing” the higher-potency drug for younger users eligible to receive an exception to the limit under this bill.

No doctor currently prescribes therapeutic cannabis, Holt said; they merely certify that the patient has the medical condition qualifying them to receive the drug.

“This would be a fundamental change to how the program operates in New Hampshire,” Holt said.

“Providers would unlikely participate in this because it is too burdensome, too much education is required to meet the documentation and they would be asked to write a prescription for a federally-illegal drug.”

Advisory council to weigh in

Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, asked Holt to bring the bill before a state advisory council that provides oversight for the program at its next meeting Feb. 3.

Bradley said he thinks the council will not endorse the bill (SB 29).

All three of Giuda’s co-sponsors on the bill are all newly-named, GOP leaders; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sharon Carson of Londonderry, House Finance Committee Chairman Ken Weyler of Kingston, and House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Pearson of Hampstead.

Dr. David Strang, chairman of the Advisory Council of the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, endorsed the bill’s concept as an individual physician.

“For those who say THC is just natural and therefore healthy, aspirin comes from the bark of a willow tree and digitalis comes from foxglove. If you ingested either plant, it’s poisonous,” Strang said.

But John Light, a citizen advocate from Manchester, said all adults should make their own decisions about whether to use high-potency cannabis.

“Those 18 or older should be able to ingest substances as they and their providers see fit without permission from the government,” Light said.

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