New Hampshire House Punts On Marijuana Legalization; Opts For Further Study

Photo Credit: Concord Monitor

A House bill to legalize small amounts of marijuana in New Hampshire was pushed into interim study Thursday, halting the momentum of legislation that two months ago seemed destined to pass.

In a 153-135 vote, representatives opted to send House Bill 656 back to the committee, effectively stopping its chances this legislative year. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Renny Cushing, R-Hampton, would legalize small amounts of marijuana and allow residents to grow the plant in their homes for personal use.

The bill would create a possession limit for those 21 and older of three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and 5 grams of hashish – similar to the amount that was decriminalized in a bill signed by the governor last year. And it would allow consumers to grow up to six plants in their homes – though only three could be mature and flowering.

In voting to send the bill to interim study – a common tactic to immobilize legislation – the House went against its decision in January in favor of legalization: a 207-139 vote on the same bill.

But in the months since, the bill has encountered stiff opposition in the House Ways and Means Committee, which unanimously recommended last week to put the bill to interim study. Many on that committee argued that the legislation had been too-hastily submitted in January and needed extensive revisions to the way it was funded.

On the House floor, Ways and Means Vice Chairman Pat Abrami, R-Stratham, added that the House should await the findings of a year-long study commission examining legalization – which he chairs.

After the vote, legalization advocates expressed disappointment. But Kate Frey, vice president of advocacy at the policy group New Futures, which opposes legalization, called the move a prudent step.

“This will give the study commission on marijuana legalization and commercialization a chance to do its work,” she said. “The evidence is clear, as highlighted by medical, public safety, and prevention experts, that marijuana legalization will have detrimental impacts on New Hampshire’s thriving communities.”

For his part, Cushing contended that the votes flipped out of sheer confusion in the Ways and Means Committee. “I think the process was really sloppy,” he said. Compounding the problem, Cushing added: the House and Republican leadership had locked arms to push the bill into study.

Still, despite the outcome, Cushing argued that the deck is ultimately stacked toward legalization. The geography is in its favor, he said.

“I think what happens with sales of marijuana to adults in Maine, Massachusetts, in Vermont, in Quebec, that’s going to kick in the first of July, and New Hampshire’s going to be the outlier,” he said. “We’re going to see tax revenue coming into the treasuries of the surrounding states … and New Hampshire’s going to look around and say, ‘Maybe we should change our policy.’ ”