Committee Members Say They Prefer to Focus on Passing a Medical Marijuana Law and Decriminalizing Personal Possession
CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Today, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee concluded its interim study process on HB 1652, which would tax and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol, and passed on the opportunity to recommend the bill for next legislative session. Rep. David Welch (R-Kingston) said he felt the proposal was simply “too much, too soon,” a phrase that was echoed by several other committee members over the course of a nearly hour-long discussion.
Matt Simon, executive director for the NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy (NH Common Sense), described the interim study process as “very positive and productive overall.” He commended legislators for considering the proposal “objectively and with open minds” before reaching their decision.
“When we first pitched the idea of making marijuana legal for adults back in 2007, many members of this committee scoffed at the idea,” Simon explained. “It’s very encouraging to see the committee now appear to be split between outright support for the issue and concern that it may be ‘too much, too soon.’”
A four-member subcommittee conducted the interim study and produced a report recommending that the bill be reintroduced. The subcommittee voted 2-2 on its positive report this morning, which sent the report forward to the full committee for consideration. After failing to reach consensus, the committee voted 15-2 against explicitly recommending future legislation on the subject.
In a Feb. 11 vote, the committee voted 16-2 in favor of HB 1653, a bill that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. That bill passed the House 214-137 but failed to gain traction in the Senate following a veto threat from Gov. John Lynch.
When the committee first voted on HB 1652 Jan. 27, members nearly passed the bill in an 8-10 vote before agreeing (16-2) to refer the bill for interim study. Of the bill’s eight supporters, four were Republicans and four were Democrats.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Calvin Pratt (R-Goffstown), Joel Winters (D-Manchester), Timothy Comerford (R-Fremont), and Carla Skinder (D-Cornish), would have made it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It also created a framework by which the production and sale of marijuana could be regulated and taxed by the state. Advocates contrasted this vision with the current state of affairs, in which the lucrative marijuana marketplace is left entirely in the hands of criminal gangs and cartels.
Advocates for marijuana regulation will now turn their attention to California, where voters will decide whether or not the Golden State should legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. In all, 5 state legislatures across the U.S. considered bills in 2010 that would have regulated and taxed marijuana similarly to alcohol. It was the first year in which bills of this nature have ever been seriously considered by state legislatures.
“Some New Hampshire legislators have expressed concerns about what the federal government’s response would be if this passed,” Simon observed. “If California voters pass Prop 19 in November, we may all have an answer to that question very soon.”
Advocates said they would “take a step back” and observe new developments nationally before reintroducing the bill, but they did not view this vote as a setback.
“There’s no question -- a bill like this will be reintroduced in a future session,” Simon concluded. “New Hampshire is quickly reaching the conclusion that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and once that is understood, there is no good argument left for continuing the expensive, futile prohibition of marijuana.”