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State representatives reject bill that would have eased marijuana laws


CONCORD - Possessing or smoking marijuana will still be a crime in New Hampshire.

Without debate, the House Wednesday rejected a bill that would have removed marijuana and cannabis from the state statute governing controlled drugs.

House Bill 337, one of three seeking to relax the state's marijuana laws, would have legalized marijuana. It was killed on a 239-112 vote.

Supporters of the bill say it is about time state law catches up with reality, saying the prohibition on marijuana should have ended years ago.

Speaking at the public hearing on the bill, Rep. Mark Warden, R-Manchester, bill sponsor, said he approached the measure partly as one of civil liberties.

"Just as technology changes, so does culture; behavior changes over time," Warden said. "Why are we stuck with the prohibition of ages ago on this issue?" But law enforcement and health officials oppose the bill saying it will make the drug more prevalent and acceptable, which will lead the greater use of other drugs.

"We're all too familiar with the symptoms and signs of devastation this brings to individuals and families," said Valerie Morgan, director of the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services for the state Department of Health and Human Services, at a public hearing on the bill. "We are under-sourced in treating people with drug abuse issues; legalizing marijuana would only add to that problem."

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee retained House Bill 492, which would legalize marijuana and regulate it.

The same committee is recommending that House Bill 621, which would decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, be killed. The bill has yet to come before the House for a vote.

grayno@unionleader.com

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