NH House committee recommends killing marijuana bill
By GARRY RAYNO State House Bureau
CONCORD — A House committee Wednesday voted 11-7 to recommend killing a bill that would legalize the use of marijuana for those 21 years old and above while taxing its sales.
House Bill 492 is modeled after Colorado and Washington laws that were approved by referendum. The bill would allow possession and transportation of up to one ounce of marijuana and, with a $30 per ounce tax, could produce between $20 million and $30 million for the cash-strapped state, said bill Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester.
He noted state and local governments spend millions of dollars prosecuting and policing something they can’t enforce.
Vaillancourt said a recent Granite State Poll indicates New Hampshire has joined the rest of the country in supporting the legalization of marijuana. The poll shows 51 percent support legalization and 41 percent oppose, he said.
“The time has come to do this,” Vaillancourt said. “New Hampshire can be a leader and be the first state (for legalization) to come through the legislature like it did with gay marriage.”
But others disagreed saying the bill lacks a mechanism to regulate its use, sales and cultivation at a time when prescription drug addiction is a growing problem. And they said it would do little to end the black market sale of the drug.
“Take a good look at what you are saying,” said committee chair, Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth. “Think of the wicked bad message you are sending to the kids.”
But committee vice chair Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing, D-Hampton, said the war on drugs has been a failure and a waste of resources, people and time.
He and others noted it is time to decriminalize possession so that students convicted of using the drug do not lose their Pell grants and young people are not barred from military service.
The bill does not force anyone to use marijuana, Vaillancourt noted, and allows communities to opt out if the choose to do that.
The bill does not change the impaired driver law and would make possession a violation for people between the age of 18 and 21 years old.
HB 492 also establishes a drug abuse treatment program.
While the committee voted down the bill, Vaillancourt said he would fight the recommendation on the House floor.
Under Vaillancourt’s bill, the state would license the sales, and any store where it was sold would have to meet local land use and planning regulations.
New Hampshire is the only state in New England where a person can serve up to a year in jail for possessing a small amount of marijuana.
“Marijuana prohibition has been just as big of a failure as alcohol prohibition,” said Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “New Hampshire voters are clearly ready for a more sensible approach. It appears some legislators are still less evolved than their constituents on this issue.”
The House will vote on the bill during the first three session days of the 2014 Legislature. If it passes the House, it faces an uphill battle in the Senate.