N.H. House Snuffs Out Pot Legalization
Concord — The House voted 192-140 against legalizing marijuana Wednesday, marking a significant shift since January, when the bill passed by eight votes.
After that earlier vote, the bill went to the Ways and Means Committee, which recommended killing it after studying regulation and taxing aspects of the bill.
The Senate was nearly certain to block the bill, and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan had promised to veto any bill legalizing marijuana.
Hassan signed a medical marijuana bill last year, and last month the House passed a separate bill to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.
Opponents of legalization said the state should take small steps when it comes to marijuana. Hassan has already said she’s unlikely to sign a decriminalization bill.
“Good public policy means taking one step at a time,” said Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter.
A certain death didn’t stop supporters from making a passionate case for legalization.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester and the bill’s prime sponsor, spoke for 30 minutes about what he thinks are misconceptions about the drug and the revenue it could bring into New Hampshire.
A February poll by the UNH Survey Center showed 53 percent of people support legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Legalizing, regulating and taxing the drug is the best way to ensure safe use, Vaillancourt said.
“This is the only way to break the back of the black market,” he said.
Rep. Romeo Danais, R-Nottingham, encouraged his colleagues to challenge their own misperceptions about the drug.
Marijuana is not a gateway drug, he said, but people who buy it from drug dealers might be more easily exposed to harder drugs. Just as with alcohol, legalizing marijuana doesn’t mean people would be allowed to drive or show up to work under its influence, he said.
“Just because it’s legal does not mean that anyone would use it,” Danais said.
Danais and Vaillancourt both pointed to Colorado, which recently legalized marijuana by voter referendum, to show the possible tax revenue from legalization. Colorado’s governor estimated his state would see $100 million in tax revenue this year. In New Hampshire, some of the new revenue could go toward educating young people about marijuana use, Danais said. Creating a system of regulation would also create jobs, Vaillancourt said.
But opponents of the bill said no state agency testified in favor of legalizing marijuana during a public hearing. The system of regulation and taxation in the bill would’ve involved the departments of Revenue Administration, Safety, Health and Human Services, Agriculture and the Liquor Commission. The Liquor Commission said it wouldn’t sell marijuana in state liquor stores, said Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham.
Furthermore, opponents said selling marijuana would be a cash-only business because banks would not accept money from marijuana transactions. The bill also raised questions about people growing their own marijuana and making “edibles,” or marijuana baked into food. Several opponents said New Hampshire should see how legalization pans out in Colorado and Washington state before moving forward with a similar plan.
“I don’t think New Hampshire wants to be known as the ‘East Coast pot state,’ ” said Rep. Mary Cooney, D-Plymouth.
The Senate has not yet scheduled a hearing for the House’s marijuana decriminalization bill.