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New Hampshire Lawmakers Could OK Legal Marijuana This Week

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Much attention has been paid to the prospects for ending marijuana prohibition this year in Vermont and New Jersey. But another state has a shot to advance a cannabis legalization bill through its legislature — and it could happen this week.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives is expected to consider the issue after the legislature reconvenes for the year on Wednesday.

The 400-member body’s calendar for that day includes HB 656, a marijuana legalization bill that was rejected by a divided Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in November.

But supportive members of that panel are planning to amend the bill on the floor in a way they believe gives it a chance of passing and advancing to the Senate.

As introduced, the bill would create a full system of legal, taxed and regulated cannabis sales. Opponents say that because a legislative study commission is currently examining how legalized marijuana commerce could one day work in the state, passing the legislation now would be premature.

So pro-legalization lawmakers will move to scale back the legislation to allow only low-level possession and home cultivation.

That approach would be similar to legislation that neighboring Vermont’s lawmakers and governor are expected to enact this month.

Vermont Will Legalize Marijuana Within Weeks, Officials Indicate

Matt Simon, the Marijuana Policy Project’s New England political director, predicted in an email to Marijuana Moment that there will be “significant debate” on the issue this week.

Here’s what to expect, according to Simon:

“First, the House will vote on whether to uphold the committee’s ‘inexpedient to legislate’ motion, which passed in a vote of 13-7. I think there’s a good chance the committee will be overturned (as has happened many times on marijuana bills dating back to 2008). If that happens, the minority of the committee will get to make its case for an amendment that would simply legalize possession and cultivation. If the House votes to adopt the amendment, the next motion will be ‘ought to pass’ as amended.

“If that all happens, since the tax component will have been removed, the bill presumably won’t need to go to a second committee — it would head straight to the Senate, where it would have to at least receive a public hearing in committee.”

Passage in the Senate would be far from assured, but the House victory would amount to significant early progress at the start of a year that advocates believe will bring about several big wins for cannabis in states across the country.

These States Are Likely To Legalize Marijuana In 2018

In New Hampshire, the House repeatedly approved legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis over the course of several years, only to see those bills consistently defeated in the Senate.

It wasn’t until last year that the support of newly elected Gov. Chris Sununu (R) provided a boost to the decrim effort and the bill passed both chambers and was enacted into law.

Now, advocates will try to expand on that victory by removing the fines that are assessed to adults possessing small amounts of marijuana, and add legal home cultivation.

“The minority of the committee believes the war on pot is over,” Rep. Frank Sapareto (R) wrote in a summary of arguments in favor of the bill from Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee members who support it. “The minority supports the home-grow option of three immature and three mature plants.”

Simon, of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said the bill “would have to be considered a longshot in the Senate.”

“However, if the House passes HB 656 in any form, it will rightly be viewed as one more nail in the coffin of marijuana prohibition in New Hampshire,” he said. “The most recent poll indicates that 68% of Granite Staters believe marijuana should be legalized, and 2018 is an election year, so I won’t be surprised if more and more legislators decide to evolve on the issue.”

In 2014, the New Hampshire House became the first legislative chamber in U.S. history to approve a marijuana legalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.

MPP is asking supporters in New Hampshire to contact their representatives about this week’s cannabis vote.

If you value staying updated on cannabis news, please start a monthly Patreon pledge to support Marijuana Moment!

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week

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Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve  socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.

Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.

The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”

In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.

To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.

The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.

“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”

Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”

“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”

Marijuana Use Will No Longer Be Prosecuted In Manhattan

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Politics

Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue

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Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.

Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”

“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.

Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”

Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.

“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”

Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.

“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.

So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”

It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.

Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.

Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”

Hm…

GIF by #ActionAliens

Melissa Etheridge Talks Art, Culture and Marijuana Advocacy In The Legalization Era

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Politics

Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says

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Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.

The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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