CONCORD, N.H. (April 8, 2019) – Last week, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would legalize marijuana for recreational purposes in the state, despite ongoing federal prohibition of the same.
Introduced in January by state Rep. Robert Cushing (D-Hampton), House Bill 481 (HB481) would legalize cannabis for people 21 years of age or older, and tax it like alcohol. Marijuana is currently legal in every state that borders New Hampshire. Maine and Massachusetts legalized it by ballot referendum in 2016 and Vermont’s state legislature legalized it in 2018.
In February, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee gave the bill a “Ought to Pass” recommendation by a razor-thin 10-9 vote. Later that month, the full House agreed with an initial vote of 209-147. After being sent to the Ways and Means committee for further consideration, the full House passed the bill in a final vote last Thursday. The tally was 200-163.
Passage into law would make New Hampshire the 11th state to legalize despite the fact that the federal government considers the plant to be illegal no matter what states decide to do.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
New Hampshire became the 19th state with a medical cannabis law, and the last in New England, when then-Gov. Maggie Hassan signed HB 573, entitled Use of Cannabis for Therapeutic Purposes (the “Act”), into law in 2013.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government claims the power to maintain a complete prohibition of marijuana. But with 33 states legalizing the plant in some form, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, New Hampshire could sweep away much of the basis for up to 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take approximately 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance. On top of that, the provision barring state enforcement of federal laws would further hinder prohibition by denying state assistance the feds desperately need.
State senator Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover), a sponsor of the bill, told The Dartmouth that the new Democratic majority in both chambers makes passage more likely, but she doesn’t see legalization as “a partisan topic.”
“There are people from both parties on both sides, and some of the greatest advocates for legalization and regulation are in fact Republicans,” Hennessey said.
In fact, a similar legalization bill was introduced by Republican State Rep. John Hunt (R-Rindge) in January. House Bill 722 (HB722) would legalize the purchase or sale of marijuana from locally-permitted marijuana retail establishments to persons 21 years of age or older. That bill was retained in committee, meaning it will be eligible for further consideration in the second term of the 2019-2020 legislative session.
HB481 will now move to the Senate for further consideration.