By Thomas H. Clarke (Reprinted from The Daily Chronic, with thanks.)
CONCORD, NH — The New Hampshire House voted 169-162 Wednesday, Jan. 15, to give preliminary approval to a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana in the state if it is approved by the Senate, who has failed to take action on similar bills and the past, and survives the pen of Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has said she would veto the bill if it makes it to her desk.
The vote of “Ought to Pass as Amended” came after two attempts to table the bill were defeated. Lawmakers from both parties voted in favor, and against, the bill. Passage in the House was considered the easiest hurdle to clear, and with the narrow passage the bill now faces an uncertain future.
Before the bill heads to the Senate, however, it must first clear the House Ways and Means Committee before it returns to the floor of the House for a final vote.
If successful in the now uphill climb to passage, House Bill 492 would legalize up to 1 ounce of marijuana for recreational use for anyone age 21 and older and allow adults to grow up to six plants for personal use.
The bill would allow for licensed and regulated marijuana retail stores, in addition to licensed facilities to cultivate, and manufacture marijuana. The bill would also impose a $30 per ounce tax on retail sales.
The bill faces an uncertain future, as Gov. Maggie Hassan told WMUR-TV last week that she would veto the bill if it were to pass.
“I don’t support the decriminalization of marijuana any further, and I would veto it if it comes to my desk,” she said.
State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican supporting the bill, says the legislation is modeled after one approved by Colorado voters last year and is similar to one Washington voters passed.
“Nothing in the bill would allow anyone to drive under the influence of marijuana or any other substance. By legalizing, regulating and taxing (marijuana), society would in effect be taking the profit away from illegal operations which truly harm society,” he wrote fellow representatives in support of the bill.
Vaillancourt said taxing marijuana would produce millions of dollars in tax revenue. He noted that the bill would not be effective until July 1 to provide time to implement it properly.
Opponents argue marijuana is bad for people’s health and would be difficult to regulate.
Criminal Justice and Public Safety Chairwoman Laura Pantelakos also noted that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
“If New Hampshire were to legalize and regulate marijuana, it would create an unclear picture of the state versus federal law enforcement, particularly since the (Department of Justice) has stated it will rely on states that legalize to strictly enforce and regulate marijuana,” Pantelakos said in a report to the House. She said that could shift regulatory costs onto the state.
Lawmakers have considered but rejected decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use in the past, most recently last session.
If the bill passes the House, it faces a doubtful future. The Senate rejected a bill to decriminalize possession of up to one-quarter ounce of marijuana last year, and Gov. Hassan opposes any further marijuana reform in the state.
A similar bill, HB 1705, fell one vote short of being approved by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in 2012.