UPDATED: House kills bill to legalize marijuana
CONCORD — With a veto threat looming and little support in the Senate, the House reversed itself Wednesday and voted 192-140 Wednesday to kill a bill to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by people 21 and older.
House Bill 492 was modeled after Colorado and Washington laws, which were approved by referendum. The New Hampshire legislature was the first to approve legalized marijuana sales via legislation when it passed the bill by eight votes in January.
Proponents argued the bill, which would have imposed a $60-an-ounce tax at the wholesale level, would have provided regulation and oversight of an industry that currently has none.
“If you really want to break the back of the black market,” said HB 492’s main sponsor, Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, “you really need to legalize it. You really need to pass this bill.”
But opponents said legalizing the drug sends the wrong message to young people and would increase addiction.
They said the bill will create a nightmare for law enforcement and puts regulation in the hands of the Department of Revenue Administration, rather than Health and Human Services or Agriculture departments.
“New Hampshire is a long way from being ready to legalize marijuana,” said Rep. Mary Cooney, D-Plymouth. “New Hampshire does not want to be known as the East Coast pot state.”
The bill would have allowed possession and transportation of up to one ounce of marijuana. Under the bill, the sale, cultivation and processing of marijuana would be legal. Up to 10 commercial cultivation facilities could be established; individuals could grow up to six plants.
Bill supporters said New Hampshire is the only state in New England where a person can serve up to a year in jail for possessing a small amount of marijuana. And they said, polls indicate a large majority of state residents support legalization.
Opponents noted possession, sale and cultivation are illegal under federal law. They said New Hampshire should wait and see what happens in Colorado and Washington before moving forward with legalization.
The House voted 170-162 in January to preliminarily approve the bill and have the House Ways and Means Committee review the financial aspects of the proposal.
The committee voted 14-5 to recommend killing the bill, but did vote 14-5 for an amendment tightening regulations and establishing the $60-an-ounce tax.
A bill decriminalizing marijuana passed by a nearly two-to-one majority earlier this month.
Possessing small amounts of marijuana or hashish would have penalties similar to a speeding ticket.
And the House passed a bill that would allow patients who qualify for the recently approved medical marijuana program to grow their own marijuana, something that was removed from the bill last session.
Gov. Maggie Hassan said she would veto the bill unless the home-grow provision was removed, and the Senate version of the bill did that.
Support for both bills in the Senate is questionable.