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New Hampshire Lawmakers Debate Marijuana Legalization Bill



New Hampshire lawmakers held a hearing on a bipartisan bill to legalize marijuana on Tuesday, with advocates and opponents taking turns to make their case.

The public hearing, which took place in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, concerned a piece of legislation sponsored by Rep. Renny Cushing (D). His bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate, consume, gift and purchase cannabis from a licensed retailer.

Individuals with prior marijuana convictions for offenses made legal under the bill would be able to get their criminal records cleared. It would also put temporary measures in place to ensure that small businesses are prioritized over large corporations in the licensing process (e.g. until 2023, no person could have a controlling interest in more than three cannabis businesses).

At the hearing, opponents and advocates traded contradictory sets of claims about the impact of legalization on underage usage, mental health and crime. There was brief heckling after an opponent brought out a recently published (and widely refuted) book that attempted to link cannabis consumption to mental illness and violence.

“Now that cannabis is legal in all three neighboring states, it makes no sense for New Hampshire to continue with prohibition,” Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Any Granite Stater who did not already have access to cannabis two months ago can now simply visit a store in Massachusetts.”

“Prohibition has failed, and residents of the so-called ‘Live Free or Die’ state are more than ready for a new approach.”

If the legislation passes, adults could possess and grow marijuana after 60 days. A governor-appointed commission would begin accepting applications for cultivators on May 1, 2020 and for retailers on September 1, 2020. And the first retail licenses would be granted by November 30, 2020.

But enactment is not guaranteed, even if lawmakers approve the bill. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) remains opposed to legalization and pledged to veto any legalization legislation. The Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Other Drugs also recently came out against the bill, earning Sununu’s praise.

“I am pleased that the Commission, composed of public health officials in the treatment, recovery, and prevention fields, unanimously came to the conclusion that now is not the time for the recreational legalization of cannabis in New Hampshire,” the governor said last month.

A separate study commission report from last year found that taxing and regulating cannabis sales could earn the state $58 million in tax revenue annually.

All that said, there’s optimism in the legislature that legalization might be able to move forward with or without the governor’s blessing. House Speaker Steve Shurtleff (D) believes there’s potentially enough support to override Sununu’s veto if it comes to that.

“I’m pretty confident that the votes are there to override in the House,” he said in an email to Marijuana Moment. “The Senate I’m not so sure about.”

With legalization bills filed in at least 17 states so far this year, expect more hearings like this one soon. Hawaii lawmakers recently debated a piece of legalization legislation, and they’re scheduled to vote on the bill on Thursday.

While the fate of that bill is unclear, there are at least 10 states where the prospects of legalizing cannabis in 2019 are strong.

Top New Hampshire Lawmaker Says Marijuana Could Be Legalized Despite Governor’s Opposition

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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