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NH House gives initial marijuana legalization OK

Marijuana plants for the adult recreational market are are seen in a greenhouse at Hepworth Farms in Milton, N.Y., July 15, 2022. New York has issued the first 36 cannabis dispensary licenses on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022 taking a monumental step in establishing a legal — and lucrative — marketplace for recreational marijuana. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mary Altaffer/AP
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AP
Marijuana plants for the adult recreational market are are seen in a greenhouse at Hepworth Farms in Milton, N.Y., July 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A bipartisan bill to legalize recreational marijuana in New Hampshire passed its first big test Wednesday.

On a 234-127 vote, the House voted to advance a legalization bill to its Ways and Means Committee. Supporters hope New Hampshire will join 21 other states, including the rest of New England, in legalizing the drug, though the bill still has a long way to go.

Though several marijuana legalization bills have cleared the House in recent years, the Senate has blocked them, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu also has been an opponent. His office said last month he doesn't expect new legislation to reach his desk this year with teen drug use and overdoses on the rise.

The latest effort would put the state's Liquor Commission in charge of regulating marijuana, with a 15 percent tax levied at the cultivation level. Most of the tax revenue would go toward reducing the state's pension liability and the state's education trust fund, with some set aside substance abuse prevention programs and police training.

Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, invoked the state's motto in favor of the bill

"I want to make sure that New Hampshire citizens don't have to go out of state to practice Live Free or Die," he said.

He and other supporters said the bill would ensure the safety of cannabis and would allow for significant local input in the permitting and licensing of facilities. Opponents focused on the danger of teen use and noted strong opposition from the law enforcement community.

Don't be fooled by the addiction for profit industry that claims tax revenue will solve all our budget problems," said Rep. Lilli Walsh, R-Hampstead. "It will change our state in unimaginable ways none of which promote the common good."

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