New Hampshire House Votes for Marijuana Legalization
The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted Tuesday morning in favor of legislation to legalize recreational marijuana.
The vote came after a floor flight over a House committee's recommendation that lawmakers kill the bill.
House Speaker Gene Chandler, a Republican from Bartlett, said the bill will now go to the House Ways & Means Committee.
The House voted 162 to 183 against killing the bill. It then voted 207 to 139 to pass an amended version of a legalization bill. The amended bill would permit adults to possess up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana, 5 grams of hashish, and certain marijuana-infused products. Adults could also cultivate up to six pot plants at home.
Advocates, like Rep. Frank Sapareto of Derry, said the "war on pot" should be over. Others cited New Hampshire's "Live Free Or Die" motto, with the Granite State possibly being "an island of prohibition" whereas neighboring states have legalized pot for adults.
Rep. David Welch, a Kingston Republican who is chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, urged for the defeat based on a commission's ongoing study of possible legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana. The commission reports back to the legislature by Nov. 1.
“It is better to know the territory before setting out for a hike," Welch said.
More than half of the 400-member House disagreed. Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat in favor of legalization, said legalization could complement the commission's work. Cushing says the House passed a legalization bill in 2014, but it died in committee.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week reversed an Obama-era memo that the federal government would not stand in the way of states' marijuana-related laws. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under federal law.
Eight states have legalized recreational marijuana, including Maine and Massachusetts. Vermont is in line to become the ninth state this year. In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu has said he opposes marijuana legalization. In a statement this week, he said, "My administration has supported commonsense reforms to decriminalize marijuana use and expand availability of medical marijuana. The reality remains that New Hampshire is in the midst of a drug crisis, and now is not the time for recreational legalization."
Cushing says the legislation is similar to the bill moving forward in Vermont. "When this bill becomes effective it will no longer be a crime to cultivate or possess a small amount of marijuana. It leaves in place the prohibition against sales and distribution," he said after the vote.
An opponent of marijuana legalization maintains it would open the state up to "Big Marijuana" industry influence. Kate Frey, vice president of advocacy at New Futures, responded to the vote by saying legalization would jeopardize overall public health in New Hampshire.
State legislators have debated marijuana bills of some kind every session for more than a decade. In 2013, the Legislature passed a medical marijuana law, known in New Hampshire by statute as the Therapeutic Cannabis Program. There are four dispensaries, which are called "alternative treatment centers." There are now more than 4,700 patients enrolled in the medical marijuana program.
(This post was updated with additional comments from Rep. Renny Cushing, New Futures' Kate Frey, and Governor Sununu.)