Saturday, November 1, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;40.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nfew.png;2014-11-01 04:23:21
Friday, September 20, 2013

NH House panel in favor of legalizing up to an ounce of marijuana

CONCORD – A clear majority on a House committee Thursday endorsed legislation making possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in New Hampshire legal and taxing it.

The measure (HB 492) left over from the 2013 session would permit anyone 21 or older to have or transport marijuana and impose a state tax equal to 15 percent of the retail price. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

CONCORD – A clear majority on a House committee Thursday endorsed legislation making possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in New Hampshire legal and taxing it.

The measure (HB 492) left over from the 2013 session would permit anyone 21 or older to have or transport marijuana and impose a state tax equal to 15 percent of the retail price.

The state would license sellers, and any store location would be subject to zoning or site plan approvals that apply in a city or town.

Proponents maintain since tobacco and alcohol are legal for adults to use and they are taxed, why shouldn’t marijuana be since some studies show that it can be less physically harmful and addicting than both of those substances.

They point further to New Hampshire as the only state in New England where someone convicted of possessing a small amount of marijuana can face serving up to a year in county jail.

“I never said marijuana was not harmful; my contention all along is it is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes,” said State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, the bill’s prime author.

But Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright, D-Nashua, said taxing it would not eliminate a black market for massive trafficking of this illegal drug and making it legal would send the wrong message to young people.

“How could you even think you want to legalize something like that?” she asked.

The measure was generally crafted along the lines of what voters in Colorado and Washington state
approved by referendum last November.

Advocates of this cause, however, aren’t celebrating this 8-5 straw vote yet.

That’s because many who were absent from the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee meeting Thursday are known opponents.

“I think we could end up with a 10-10 vote,” Vaillancourt said.

Matthew Simon, state director of the Marijuana Policy Project, remained more hopeful.

“I think we’ve got a reasonable chance of getting the full committee on board, but we’ll keep working on it,” Simon said during an interview.

Last spring, a more than a decade-long campaign succeeded when Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a law legalizing marijuana for use by the chronically ill upon a doctor’s recommendation. The marijuana will be available only at a state-licensed care center.

Even if this House committee gives the green light later this fall to legalizing marijuana, the fight to get the Legislature to adopt it is uphill from there.

Hassan opposes any measure to decriminalize or legalize marijuana use, communications director Marc Goldberg said Thursday.

Attorney General Joe Foster, of Nashua, and Safety Commissioner John Barthlemes, of Hopkinton, along with the local police chiefs all are on record urging defeat for this bill, and they all sent representatives Thursday to monitor its progress.

The New Hampshire House has never endorsed legalizing and taxing marijuana. The most recent vote was in March 2012 when Republicans held a super-majority in the chamber and a similar bill died by a lopsided vote of 222-89.

Simon said attitudes of citizens have turned in recent years, however. He pointed to a Public Policy Polling survey of New Hampshire residents in February that found 53 percent supported the idea while 37 percent are against it.

“We have seen a sea change of public opinion on this issue,” Simon said.

Tricia Lucas, a lobbyist with New Futures – the state’s leading, anti-substance abuse group – urged further study.

And Lucas maintained that any tax revenue from the legal sale of marijuana would be overwhelmed by societal costs from lost productivity, taxpayer spending to treat health ailments and spending on law enforcement.

“The damage to public health, productivity, public safety will never be offset by the revenue generated by taxing this substances,” Lucas said.

In a 2012 study for New Futures, an economist concluded that while alcohol generates up to $150 million annually in taxes, the costs to New Hampshire society exceed $1 billion.

Regarding criminal punishment and the stigma of a jail term, Lucas said amending criminal laws would be a much less radical step than legalizing marijuana and promoting private commercial sale of it.

“We know from the experience of alcohol and tobacco that sales of the product will dramatically decrease. It will become lower in price, and we know that a large commercial market will grow up around that,” Lucas said. “Then we could see advertising and outreach to youths because it is addictive.”

Further, Lucas noted this bill does not permit a city or town to decide that it will not allow sale of marijuana within its borders.

Since last November, 80 communities in Colorado took advantage of an opt-out provision in that state’s referendum and won’t allow it to be sold there.

Simon said he’d be happy to amend this bill and let local voters decide if they wish to ban marijuana sales there.

“We’re perfectly willing to make changes to this to make sure it’s the right approach here,” Simon said.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).