NH House kills bill that would have legalized marijuana
CONCORD – The recreational use of marijuana will continue to be illegal after the House Thursday killed a bill that would have legalized, regulated and taxed the drug.
House Bill 1694 would legalize marijuana for those 21 years old and older and would impose not only a $15-per-ounce tax on the leaves, but also a $530-per-ounce tax on the much more potent flowers, which also can be used to cultivate plants.
The bill would allow someone to grow up to six plants; three could be "adults" that would produce about three pounds of the drug.
During Thursday's debate, supporters said it is “high time” the state legalized the drug to stop making criminals of users. And they said marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol, which claimed 50,000 lives nationally last year.
But opponents said with the state facing a horrendous drug addiction crisis, now is not the time to be legalizing any drug. They added even proponents of legalization acknowledge it is not harmless.
Supporters contend legalizing the drug -- which is expected in happen in several New England states this year or next -- would help reduce the use of alcohol and the often violent behavior that results from drinking.
“(HB 1694) would provide adult New Hampshire citizens with a controlled, tested, labeled, and less harmful alternative to alcohol,” said the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Geoffrey Hirsch, D-Bradford.
He downplayed concerns about making the drug readily available to young people who may use it as a stepping stone to more potent drugs.
“How much more available can it be,” Hirsch said about marijuana and young people. “It's hard to imagine an environment where students have greater access to marijuana then they already do.”
He said by legalizing marijuana it would no longer be sold on the illicit market by people also peddling hard drugs.
But Rep. John Tholl, R-Whitefield, a former police chief, said he has heard all the proponents' arguments before.
He said currently there is no test that would alert a police officer when a driver is exceedingly high on marijuana like there is for alcohol.
He added the state would not reap that much money from the legal sale of the drug because it allows users to grow up to six plants on their own.
“Who is going to pay for bag (and the tax) when I can grow it myself not get the tax?” Tholl said.
And he said now is not the right time to be discussing legalizing any currently illegal drug.
“This is the not the New Hampshire way to say ‘Yes you should use this federally illegal drug,'” Tholl said, “while we are trying to stop the use of opioids.”
Several years ago, the House approved a bill legalizing marijuana, but it was killed in the Senate. The House has approved decriminalizing the drug several times, but the Senate has killed those bills.