NH Primary Source: State Democrats Debate Calling For Marijuana Legalization In Platform

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The state Democratic Party’s Platform Committee has rejected – at least for now – a proposal to add to the party’s 2018 platform a call for the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana.

The 15-member committee voted 11-4 on Tuesday night against a plank stating: “We believe that New Hampshire should treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol, and that cannabis (marijuana) should be legalized, taxed and regulated.”

The proposal was cosponsored by state Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton; Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye, who is a 1st District U.S. House candidate; Rep. Amelia Keane of Nashua, along with attorney Paul Twomey, former state Sen. Burt Cohen and New Hampshire Young Democrats President Lucas Meyer.

The proposed plank would have replaced current committee-proposed language for the 2018 platform on the issue, stating: “We believe that strategic policies on regulation, taxation, and enforcement are critical prior to any action to fully legalize marijuana.”

The current 2016 platform addresses the issue by calling for decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. Lawmakers passed and Gov. Chris Sununu signed a marijuana decriminalization law last year.

“This year, we thought it would be appropriate for the Democratic Party to favor the legalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana, particularly since we are surrounded by three states and one country that make it legal for recreational use,” Cushing told New Hampshire Primary Source.

Marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine. Canada appears on track to legalize it during the summer.

The Cushing-led proposal was not only rejected, but it also failed to garner the five platform committee votes necessary to allow it to be brought up for a vote on the floor of the state party convention, scheduled for June 23 in Stratham.

Cushing said the fate of the proposal mirrored that of House Bill 656, which would have legalized possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and five grams of hashish. The bill was sent to the legislative purgatory of interim study by the House in March on a 153-135 roll call, with Democrats generally split on the vote.

The committee agreed on a draft platform after holding hearings throughout the state between March 19 and April 20.

At the Tuesday meeting, some members were concerned about the language of the proposed plank and felt that the platform should be more general, or “visionary,” in nature, rather than reading like legislation.

“The majority was split on the vision of legalization, but there was agreement that this language was not correct,” according to someone who attended the meeting.

Another attendee, Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, platform committee co-chair, said the concerns voiced among the 11 members who opposed it were varied.

“Some said we should do this now but did not agree with the language. Some were in the middle,” she said. “They said let’s be planful, and some said that this is not a good time to do this now, right in the middle of a opioid crisis.”

“I would like to have us plan this out and address the questions that were raised by the states that have come before us,” Rosenwald said.

But Rosenwald said the proposal is not dead.

“There are some members of the platform committee who are going to reach out to the five people who proposed it and see if there is some language that is agreeable to everyone.”

Party spokesman Wyatt Ronan, while not commenting on the proposal or the platform, said that procedurally, there is time for changes to be made to the platform committee’s draft document. He noted that the rules call for the final committee-proposed platform to be published on June 11.

“This is the beginning of the negotiating process for the platform,” he said. “The committee can continue to deliberate until then, and this is not the last opportunity to have input.”

Cushing, however, said that “there is nothing wrong with” the wording of the proposal put forward on Tuesday.

“It says marijuana should be legalized and then taxed and regulated in a manner similar to how we deal with alcohol,” he said. “I don’t know what can be simpler than that. It’s a general concept.”