N.H. Advances Pot Proposal

  • The New Hampshire House listens to a bill about legalizing recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Concord, N.H. The House voted to send the bill to its Ways and Means Committee. If enacted, it would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to cultivate it in limited quantities. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer)

Associated Press
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Concord — State lawmakers took a step toward legalizing the recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday even though a commission studying the issue is months away from finishing its work.

The House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to cultivate it in limited quantities. Provisions that would have created a regulatory system for selling and taxing the drug were dropped from the bill, which advanced to the House Ways and Means Committee on a vote of 207-139.

In the Upper Valley, Lebanon’s four Democratic House members — Susan Almy, Andrew White, George Sykes and Richard Abel — voted in favor of the bill, while Hanover’s delegation split over the measure.

State Rep. Polly Campion, D-Hanover, voted for the legislation, according to House records, while Patricia Higgins, Mary Jane Mulligan and Sharon Nordgren were opposed. All four are Democrats.

The vote also was split among Claremont legislators. Republicans John O’Connor and Francis Gauthier both voted for legalization, while Democrats Raymond Gagnon and John Cloutier voted against.

Other Upper Valley Republicans who supported the legalization effort include Tom Laware, of Charlestown, and Stephen Darrow, of Grafton.

Republicans who opposed the measure include Vicki Schwaegler, of Orford; David Binford, of Bath; Vincent Paul Migliore, of Bridgewater; Rick Ladd, of Haverhill; Skip Rollins, of Newport; and Steven Smith, of Charlestown.

Democrats who supported the bill include Linda Tanner, of Georges Mills; Lee Oxenham; of Plainfield; Brian Sullivan, of Grantham; Virginia Irwin, of Newport; and Timothy Josephson, of Canaan.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he continues to oppose legalization efforts.

“My administration has supported common-sense reforms to decriminalize marijuana use and expand availability of medical marijuana. The reality remains that New Hampshire is in the midst of a drug crisis, and now is not the time for recreational legalization,” Sununu said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote.

Other opponents argued the bill is premature because a commission created last year to study the issue won’t make its recommendations until November.

“It is better to know the territory before setting off for a hike,” said Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston. “The commission is currently examining the landscape.”

Welch leads the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which recommended killing the bill. But supporters said it is past time to legalize a drug that has been debated in the Statehouse for decades, particularly given movement in surrounding states.

“It looks bad for the reputation of the Live Free or Die to be an island of prohibition surrounded by a sea of freedom,” said Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston.

The first pot shops in Massachusetts are slated to open this year. Recreational marijuana use became legal for adults in Maine last year, though there is no way to legally buy it because Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill created by a bipartisan task force. In Vermont, lawmakers are expected to give final approval this week to legislation similar to the New Hampshire bill, and Republican Gov. Phil Scott has said he’d sign it.

Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said New Hampshire risks losing tourism dollars if it doesn’t legalize marijuana.

“The idea that New Hampshire is going to be this sole place where it’s not an option available I think will have a detrimental impact on the state,” he said. “The time is now. We need to move forward.”

A Granite State Poll conducted by the UNH Survey Center in May showed more than two-thirds of New Hampshire adults strongly support or somewhat support the legislation. Opponents include the advocacy group New Futures, which said it will continue to examine the issue through the study commission.