CONCORD — Quincy Roy, a sophomore at Manchester Memorial High School, could have been doing a lot of different things on the second day of the April school vacation, but she found herself in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, testifying against a House bill to legalize cannabis for recreational use by adults in New Hampshire.
She also spent much of the past week calling state representatives to lobby against the bill, and to offer the perspectives of a young woman who saw an acquaintance devastated by the drug.
“I was a middle-schooler at the time,” she told the committee in front of a packed room that had people lining the walls and sitting on the floor between rows of chairs.
“I saw this individual first become rebellious and act out, stay out late and party. Then it started affecting his sleep; then he became addicted to it and the lifestyle. It caused him to never leave his bedroom; he gave up; he didn’t graduate; he dropped out.”
Roy was among dozens of individuals who came to the State House on Tuesday to testify against House Bill 481, the legalization bill that has passed the House twice and is now before the Senate.
Opponents like Roy far outnumbered supporters, who were better represented in two House hearings held in Representatives Hall earlier in the year.
Opponents pulled out all the stops on Tuesday with a news conference before the committee hearing that featured national figures in the fight against legalization, including Bishop Jethro C. James Jr., pastor at the Paradise Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., who recently helped pressure New Jersey lawmakers to cancel their vote on marijuana legalization.
Also in New Hampshire for the hearing was Luke Niforatos, chief of staff for the national group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who traveled from Colorado for the event.
A lot of witnesses
Even legalization advocate Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, had to tip his hat to opponents, led by Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren.
“They’ve brought a lot of witnesses, including from other states. They’ve done a great job,” he said. “But here are some poll numbers to remind you that the perception we have in this room is not the perception of what the majority of people in New Hampshire actually think about this issue.”
Simon alluded to several polls over the years by the UNH Survey Center that have shown growing support for legalization, the most recent in March that showed 68 percent of poll respondents either strongly support (50 percent) or somewhat support (18 percent) legalization, with only 27 percent opposed outright.
“We’re not a state where this could be put on the ballot for people to vote on, but if we could, we know it would pass,” said Simon. “I’m not suggesting we should make laws on the basis of a poll, but we do have a constitutional form of government and laws are supposed to be based on the consent of the governed, and in this case, they plainly aren’t.”
State Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, sponsor of the bill, testified in support, as did the chief lobbyist for the NH-ACLU. A handful of “civilians” offered their support for the bill as well, but their testimony stood in contrast to the long line of opponents.
Roy was applauded for her stark portrayal of “a new epidemic among my peers.”
Clouds of smoke
Giuda, just back from a visit to Denver, described “a mall that used to be a center of commerce and now resembles a Third World country with people panhandling and laying around in a cloud of marijuana smoke.”
Niforatos described navigating the sidewalks of Denver through a cannabis fog with his wife and 2-year-old daughter.
“Every time we go walking down the streets in Denver, every time we do that our daughter and her stroller are just covered with a cloud of second-hand marijuana smoke,” he said. “There’s smoke engulfing her stroller. Our daughter is breathing this smoke into her lungs and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Dan Goodman, the public relations manager for AAA Northern New England said the automobile association opposes the bill largely because there is no widely accepted test for marijuana impairment among drivers.
Other opponents testifying included medical and public health professionals, representatives of the N.H. Chiefs of Police and State Police, and the chairman of the legislative committee that spent a year studying the idea.
A bipartisan issue
The bill passed the House, 209-147, on Feb. 27 after review by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, and again on April 4, 200-163, after review by the Ways and Means Committee, which changed the taxation scheme.
Gov. Chris Sununu has promised a veto, and it looks likely to be upheld. Legalizing marijuana was part of the N.H. Democratic Party platform going into the 2018 elections, but neither party is united on the issue.
About 50 Republicans voted with Democrats in the House to legalize in February and April, and about 50 Democrats voted against it both times.
The outcome of the vote in the Senate is uncertain, but that vote is expected to cross party lines as well.