A close-up of marijuana flowers at La Conte's grow facility in Denver in December 2014. (Denver Post file)

Update: Cancer patient gets medical marijuana card after court order

Updated Nov. 25, 2015 at 1:48 p.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire health officials have approved a lung cancer patient’s application for an identification card that will allow her to buy medical marijuana in Maine.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said Linda Horan would be issued a card Wednesday, a day after a court granted her emergency request and ordered the state to review her application. The state had argued that issuing the 64-year-old Alstead woman a card before dispensaries open next year would undermine its need to control marijuana distribution, but Horan, who was diagnosed with late-stage cancer in July, argued she might be dead by then.

Late-stage cancer patient in court fight to get medical marijuana access
Cancer patient Linda Horan arrives with her lawyer Paul Twomey for a hearing at Merrimack County Superior Court on Nov. 12, 2015, in Concord, N.H. Horan, who has been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, seeks a court order to provide her a medical marijuana identification card before dispensaries open next year in New Hampshire. (Lynne Tuohy, The Associated Press)

New Hampshire lawmakers approved the use of marijuana by people suffering from a limited number of diseases and medical conditions more than two years ago, but the first four dispensaries won’t open until early 2016.

Maine law allows for people visiting the state for an extended period of time to obtain medical marijuana if they meet certain requirements, including having a qualified medical condition. The program manager for the Maine Medical Marijuana Program told New Hampshire court officials that the provision was intended to serve patients in Maine for a vacation or a school term, not those looking to buy marijuana and drive home immediately. Horan has said she plans to visit friends in southern Maine and stay with them for an extended period.

It’s unclear whether others in Horan’s situation will have the same opportunity. Jake Leon, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency is still reviewing the ruling with its lawyers and the attorney general’s office to determine how it will handle pending and future applications. As of Monday, the department had received 30 applications since pre-registration opened Nov. 2.

Previous reporting below:

CONCORD, N.H. — A woman with late-stage lung cancer can seek to buy medical marijuana in Maine before dispensaries open in New Hampshire, a judge ruled Tuesday.

New Hampshire lawmakers approved the use of marijuana by people suffering from a limited number of diseases and medical conditions more than two years ago, but the first four dispensaries won’t open until next year. Linda Horan, 64, says she might be dead by then and sued the state in hopes of getting an identification card that would allow her to purchase marijuana in Maine instead.

Lawyers for the state argued that issuing Horan an identification card now would undermine New Hampshire’s need to control distribution, but a judge sided with Horan and ordered the state to process her application and issue a card if it is approved. The state, which has 15 days to approve or deny an application, did not dispute that Horan would be entitled to a card.

“I’m over the moon. It really hasn’t sunk in,” Horan said. “I’m in tears — tears of joy. Not just for me, but for everyone else who will have the opportunity to get the medicine they need. If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging.”

Horan, a retired telephone worker and longtime labor activist from Alstead, was diagnosed in July with lung cancer that has grown rapidly since then and spread to her lymph nodes and brain. Her doctors have told her that marijuana could help reduce nausea and minimize the need to use narcotics to control pain.

“She is suffering from a painful, terminal disease and is also undergoing chemotherapy. There is no dispute that cannabis can ameliorate some of her suffering,” wrote Judge Richard McNamara. “She will suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted.”

Horan’s attorney, Paul Twomey, called his client a hero.

“Facing death, she has chosen to fight for the rights of all the critically ill patients in New Hampshire, who should not have to fear arrest because they are sick,” he said. “She may be dying, but we all owe her our thanks for showing us how to live.”

Assistant Attorney General Francis Fredericks could not be reached for comment Tuesday after his office closed.

At an earlier hearing, he said the state had to balance the patient’s need to obtain medical marijuana with the state’s need to control its distribution at its alternative treatment centers.

“New Hampshire should not have to abandon its protocol and its plan because Maine is a step ahead,” he said.

In his ruling, McNamara rejected the state’s argument that allowing Horan to possess marijuana from Maine would destroy the tight distribution controls lawmakers envisioned in passing the law. He noted that the law allows visitors from other states to obtain New Hampshire medical marijuana, suggesting that lawmakers knew other states would have similar provisions.