|New Hampshire Statehouse: Legislators believe marijuana legalization is “too much, too soon” for The Granite State.|
Committee Members Say They Prefer to Focus on Passing a Medical Marijuana Law and Decriminalizing Personal Possession
Marijuana legalization and regulation won’t be happening next legislative session in New Hampshire.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday concluded its interim study process on HB 1652, which would tax and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol, and passed on the opportunity to recommend the bill for next legislative session.
The proposal was simply “too much, too soon,” according to Rep. David Welch (R-Kingston), and Welch’s phrase was repeated by several other committee members during the almost hour-long discussion.
However, the interim study process was “very positive and productive overall,” according to Matt Simon, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy (NH Common Sense).
|Photo: NH Capitol Access|
|Matt Simon, N.H. Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy: “It’s very encouraging to see the committee now appear to be split”|
Simon praised lawmakers for considering the legalization proposal “objectively and with open minds” before reaching their decision.
“When we first pitched the idea of making marijuana legal for adults back in 2007, many members of this committee scoffed at the idea,” Simon said. “It’s very encouraging to see the committee now appear to be split between outright support for the issue and concern that it may be ‘too much, too soon.’ “
A four-member subcommittee did the interim study and produced a report recommending that the legalization bill be reintroduced. The subcommittee split 2-2 on its positive report Wednesday morning, which sent the report forward to the full committee for consideration.
After failing to reach consensus, the committee voted 15-2 against explicitly recommending future legislation on the subject.
The committee had voted 16-2 on February 11 in favor of HB 1653, which would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. That bill passed the House 214-137 but failed to gain traction in the Senate following a veto threat from Governor John Lynch.
When the committee first voted on the legalization bill, HB 1652, on January 27, members nearly passed the bill in an 8-10 vote before agreeing, 16-2, to refer the bill for interim study. Of the bill’s eight supporters, four were Republicans and four were Democrats.
|Photo: Joel Winters|
|Rep. Joel Winters (D-Manchester) was one of four sponsors of the New Hampshire marijuana legalization bill.|
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Calvin Pratt (R-Goffstown), Joel Winters (D-Manchester), Timothy Comerford (R-Fremont), and Carla Skinder (D-Cornish), would have made it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis.
It also created a framework by which the production and sale of marijuana could be regulated and taxed by the state. Advocates contrasted this plan with the current state of affairs, in which the lucrative marijuana trade is left entirely in the hands of criminal gangs and cartels.
Advocates for marijuana legalization are now turning their attention to California, where voters will decide in less than three weeks whether the Golden State should legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis.
In all, five state legislatures across the U.S. considered bills in 2010 that would have legalized, regulated and taxed marijuana similarly to alcohol. It was the first year ever in which bills of this type of been seriously considered by state legislatures.
“Some New Hampshire legislators have expressed concerns about what the federal government’s response would be if this passed,” Simon said. “If California voters pass Prop 19 in November, we may all have an answer to that question very soon.”
Advocates said they would observe new developments nationally before reintroducing New Hampshire’s legalization bill, but they said they did not view this vote as a setback.
“There’s no question — a bill like this will be reintroduced in a future session,” Simon said. “New Hampshire is quickly reaching the conclusion that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and once that is understood, there is no good argument left for continuing the expensive, futile prohibition of marijuana.”