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N.H. House Votes To Legalize Recreational Marijuana

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Marijuana legalization cleared another legislative hurdle Thursday at the New Hampshire State House.

The House of Representatives voted 200-163 to pass a marijuana legalization bill, as amended by the Ways and Means Committee.

That amendment proved controversial for some state representatives, even one who initially voted for the bill, but objected to the reworked tax structure.

Instead of $30 an ounce, as introduced, the legislation now proposes recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older be taxed at 5 % at the wholesale/cultivation level and 9 % at the retail level. Some argued it amounts to a sales tax.

Rep. Richard Ames, vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee, disputed that comparison. He said the levy more closely resembles a meals and rooms tax. "House Bill 481, as amended, will bring cannabis out of the shadows and provide for its appropriate taxation, regulation, and legal use by adults," he said in rallying support for it.

Rep. Stephen Pearson urged House members to reject it, arguing that states that have legalized have failed to meet revenue expectations, and that the bill's calculations were out-dated.

Others were critical of the fact that the amended bill did not come up with a revised revenue projection: the original bill had a range of $20 million to $31 million.

The tax restructuring was done with an eye toward tamping down black market sales of cannabis, according to supporters.

Rep. Patrick Abrami, who served as chairman of a commission set up to study legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, raised issues with several parts of the bill, including that there is no "opt-in" provision for communities, similar to how Keno operations are allowed, or not allowed.

Marijuana remains illegal on the federal level. 

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Democrats hold a 14-10 majority. Gov. Chris Sununu remains opposed to legalizing marijuana.

Kate Frey, vice president of advocacy for New Futures, said after the vote that her organization would train its focus on trying to convince senators that the marijuana legalization is bad for New Hampshire. In a statement, she said, "This legislation does not put into place the necessary regulations or protections for our children that should come with commercialization, including earmarking funds raised for substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery."

On the House floor, Rep. Laura Pantelakos voiced a similar concern, drawing comparisons with the state's alcohol fund.

(This post was updated Thursday afternoon.) 

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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