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In Close Vote, House Committee Backs Marijuana Legalization in N.H.

A bill to legalize recreational marijuana in New Hampshire has won the backing of a House committee, but the narrow vote foretells a floor fight when the full House of Representatives considers it.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 10-9 to recommend passage of House Bill 481.

The bill would legalize up to an ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older and establish a system for regulation and taxation. 

[What Marijuana Bills Will The N.H. Legislature Consider in 2019]

A person legally allowed to possess marijuana would be permitted to have six plants, or 12 plants total for a household. Projections in the bill say legalization would generate between $20 million and $31 million for the state.

It would levy a tax of $30 per ounce on all cannabis flowers—the tax structure means the bill will at some point be sent to Ways & Means for further review.  The proposal would establish a cannabis control commission for regulatory and licensing purposes for retail and manufacturing entities.

Public consumption would be banned and subject to a $100 fine on first offense.

Some health advocates have rallied against the bill, citing potential harm to youth and the state's struggle with an opioid addiction crisis. Supporters say New Hampshire, which is surrounded by states that have legalized marijuana, should abolish the prohibition on cannabis. Rep. Renny Cushing, the chairman of the House Criminal Justice committee, is the prime sponsor of the bill.

"It was a historic vote," Cushing said in an interview with NHPR. "For the first time in history the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted to recommend that we put an end to the prohibition of cannabis and enact a law to provide for the legalization, regulation and taxation.”

Gov. Chris Sununu has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. 

Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.

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