CONCORD — In all the attempts to legalize marijuana in past legislative sessions, the idea has never received a positive vote from the House Criminal Justice Committee, until Thursday.
After a heated debate, the committee voted 10-9 to endorse House Bill 481, which would legalize and tax marijuana for adult recreational use in the Granite State.
The bill now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on it next Wednesday or Thursday. If it passes, it will most likely be referred to the House Finance Committee for a second review, since it involves state finances, and then another vote in the House.
“This is the first time Criminal Justice and Public Safety has ever recommended an end to marijuana prohibition,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, chair of the committee and chief sponsor of the bill.
“In the past, when the House has voted in favor, it has overturned negative committee votes on the floor. That makes today’s committee vote quite historic.”
The committee vote did not break along party lines as Democrats Latha Mangipudi, Linda Harriott-Gathright and Linn Operbecke voted with Republicans David Welch, Dennis Fields, Dennis Green, Jody McNally, David Testerman and Daryl Abbas against the bill.
Republicans John Burt and Scott Wallace voted with Democrats Cushing, Beth Rodd, William Pearson, John Bordenet, David Meuse, Nancy Murphy, Ray Newman and Sandy Swinburne in the majority.
There was an air of suspense in the room when Burt’s name was called, as he took a long pause before voting “yes.”
The committee voted 10-9 along party lines to endorse HB 109, a bill that would require background checks for all commercial firearms sales, including gun shows and online sales.
A bill requiring the Commissioner Health and Human Services to build a new secure multi-purpose forensic psychiatric hospital was amended to erase all provisions except for creation of a Forensic Hospital Advisory Council.
Cushing said the rest of the bill was rendered moot when Gov. Chris Sununu announced plans for a $40 million, 60-bed forensic unit on the grounds of the state psychiatric hospital in his budget address earlier in the month.
“We know the governor is moving forward with this in his budget, so the bill now recognizes that and establishes an advisory committee made up of important stakeholders in the mental health community to advise on the construction of this project,” he said.