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House committee votes against marijuana legalization bill

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

November 14. 2017 1:28PM
Cannabis plants are shown at Sanctuary ATC, a medical marijuana growing facility in Rochester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

CONCORD — The House Criminal Justice Committee voted 13-7 Tuesday to recommend against a House bill that would set the stage for full legalization of marijuana for recreational use by adults in New Hampshire.

The vote came three weeks after a subcommittee of five members voted 3-2 to recommend "ought to pass" on HB 656, which would legalize personal marijuana use by adults 21 and older and calls for retail sales and state taxation.

The bill was retained in the 21-member Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee after the last legislative session, and the five-person subcommittee was appointed to study the bill.

Opponents of the bill said it was premature, given that a commission created by a separate House bill is already at work on the issue.

The commission to study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana in New Hampshire held its first meeting in October and has until November, 2018 to submit its recommendations to the Legislature.

“There is a study commission already working on the legalization of marijuana. We are essentially shortchanging the commission with this bill,” said Rep. Dave Testerman, R-Franklin.

Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, chaired the subcommittee and supported the legalization effort. He predicted that the 17-member commission will come out against legalization.

Matt Simon, New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the committee vote was expected, although legalization advocates were pleased to see Rep. Richard O'Leary, retired deputy police chief in Manchester, vote in favor of the bill.

Simon said the full House could reject the recommendation of the committee and pass the bill when it reconvenes in January.

“This committee has been overturned many times by the full House on marijuana policy bills,” he said. “Now that 68 percent of Granite Staters are on board with legalization, I believe there's a good chance the House will overturn this committee report and vote to pass the bill.”

Legalization for recreational use has been approved by voter referendum in Maine and Massachusetts.

The New Hampshire House has approved a bill legalizing marijuana in the past but it was killed in the Senate. The two chambers this year agreed on a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, which was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu.

New Futures, a public health organization focused on substance abuse issues, commended Tuesday’s vote as “an important step in keeping New Hampshire a healthy place to live, work and raise a family.”

“Allowing Big Marijuana into New Hampshire is bad for our workforce, our kids and the overall public health of our state,” said Vice President of Advocacy Kate Frey. “We look forward to further examining this issue through the legislatively established study commission.”


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