N.H. takes a look at legalization

Four bills intend to regulate the use of marijuana in the state

Eric Walker

Equinox Staff


New Hampshire could become the third state in the nation to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational use.

House Bill 492, one of four pieces of pot-related legislation currently proposed in the Granite State, would effectively make the sale of marijuana equivalent to the sale of alcohol or tobacco. HB 492 requires purchasers to be 21 years of age or older and acquire the marijuana from an authorized licensed retailer.

graphic by emily fedorko / Photo editor

graphic by emily fedorko / Photo editor

The bill would also implement a tax of 15 percent of the sale price.

Other proposed bills include: HB 621, which would reduce the penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to a fine of no more than 100 dollars; HB 573, which would legalize and regulate the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes; and HB 337, which calls for full legalization and would remove all criminal penalties from the books.

On Jan. 8, Public Policy Polling reported that 53 percent of New Hampshire residents support legalizing and regulating marijuana for recreational use, with 37 percent opposing and 10 percent reporting “not sure.”

When introducing HB 492 Representative Steve Vaillancourt of Manchester said, “We should never legislate by opinion, but it’s often comfortable when we find that the opinion that most people have is what we share.” Vaillancourt said the bill, with the exception of a few wording differences, is identical to the laws passed in Colorado and Washington State last year.

However, even if HB 492 were to pass the house and senate, Governor Maggie Hassan could stop it dead in its tracks.

Last year on the campaign trail Hassan said she did not support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, but did voice her openness to the possibility of legalizing properly regulated medical marijuana.

According to a poll conducted by WMUR-TV and the University of New Hampshire earlier this month, 79 percent of New Hampshire residents are in favor of legalizing medicinal marijuana.

Currently proposed, HB 573 would legalize the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for the alleviation of pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with a number of specific debilitating medical conditions. Qualifying patients would carry an identification card and buy the marijuana at a regulated non-profit treatment center or grow their own limited number of plants.

Hassan’s predecessor John Lynch vetoed a similar bipartisan medical marijuana bill (SB 409) in 2012. The senate then attempted to override his veto, but failed.

Lynch said, “I cannot support establishing a system for the use of medical marijuana that poses risks to the patient, lacks adequate oversight and funding and risks the proliferation of a serious drug.”

Keene State College Professor Emeritus and State Representative Charles “Chuck” Weed, who co-sponsored decriminalization legislation in the past, said he believes HB 573 is the most likely of the bills to pass, but the others, including HB 492, don’t stand a chance.

It was uncertain how sizable the revenue raised by HB 492 would be if it were to become law. Due to time constraints the Office of Legislative Budget Assistant was unable to give a fiscal note in the bill, but plans to forward its review to the House Clerk’s Office when completed.

KSC student Shay Riley said although legalization doesn’t mean much to her, she thinks it would make for a safer environment because users wouldn’t have to make their purchases illegally.

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) website cites University of Colorado Psychiatry Professor and Director of the University’s Division of Substance Dependence Thomas Crowley stating, “The basic rule with any drug is if the drug becomes more available in the society, there will be more use of the drug.”

Freshman Hannah Legacy, who supports full legalization, admitted marijuana isn’t completely safe and some users can become dependent, but said she doesn’t believe it’s an addictive substance and views alcohol as more dangerous.

If any of the proposed house bills do become state law, they will still float in some murky legal waters. Under the federal Controlled Substance Act marijuana is a schedule 1 narcotic, alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy, which means it has, “no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.”

Despite the fact that federal law supersedes state law, 18 states currently permit the use of marijuana for medicinal use.

According to DEA literature, “The campaign to legitimize what is called ‘medical’ marijuana is based on two propositions: first, that science views marijuana as medicine; and second, that the DEA targets sick and dying people using the drug.  Neither proposition is true.” The DEA states that although they still view marijuana as illegal, they will not focus their efforts on those following state laws, but rather on traffickers who use the state laws to conceal operations that do not coincide with the state law’s purpose.

Representative Weed clarified that although he does think it’s absurd we’ve prohibited the use of marijuana, he does not believe it’s a medicine.

“It’s an herbal, a very effective herbal compound,” he said. “To me we can be fooled from two directions. One being so opposed that we don’t look at the evidence and the facts and the consequences of prohibition, and two that we think it’s the answer to everything,” Weed said.

In a written testimony to the House Criminal Justice Committee reviewing HB 492, Cheshire County Jail Superintendent Richard Van Wickler said, “Our Country will spend approximately 88 billion dollars this year in yet another attempt to create a drug free society and we will fail.  When we incarcerate a rapist, bank robber or other ‘mala in se’ [evil in itself] criminal, the crimes that they were committing stop, hence the incapacitation effect of incarceration.  When we incarcerate a drug dealer, we simply create a job opportunity for another individual who will step in and keep the illegal supply and unregulated revenue stream coming in.”


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