CONCORD, N.H. (Feb. 20, 2020) – Yesterday, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would legalize personal possession and cultivation of marijuana in the state, despite federal prohibition on the same.
A bipartisan coalition of representatives introduced House Bill 1648 (HB1648) on Jan. 8. The legislation would allow adults over 21 to possess 3/4 of an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes. Under the proposed law, individuals would also be able to give up to 3/4 of an ounce of cannabis to another person. HB1648 would not authorize retail sales of marijuana.
On Jan. 29, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee advanced the measure with an ought-to-pass recommendation by a 13-7 vote. Yesterday, the full House passed the bill by a vote of 236-112.
Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) is one of the bill sponsors. He said he thinks the legalization of cannabis is more popular than the legislature itself or the governor or any other political entity in the state of New Hampshire.
“This is something that the people of the state of New Hampshire want. They don’t want to be treated like they’re criminals if they have a plant.”
Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment that with the House’s passage, the bill now faces “a more difficult challenge” before the Senate. But given the strong public support for legalization, he said, it’s time for lawmakers to move.
“It makes no sense for the ‘Live Free or Die’ state to continue punishing adults for growing and possessing cannabis,” he said. “The Senate should join the House in passing HB 1648, and Governor Sununu should recognize that it’s time to bring New Hampshire’s cannabis laws more nearly into line with neighboring states.”
These efforts to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire continue to move forward despite ongoing federal prohibition.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Despite federal prohibition, New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana in 2013 and has since expanded the program. In September 2017, a law decriminalizing simple marijuana possession went into effect, and the state followed up by creating a process to expunge some marijuana charges last year.
Passage of HB1648 would remove yet another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in New Hampshire, but federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-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. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Should the bill pass, New Hampshire will join a growing number of states increasingly ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 33 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.
The push to legalize recreational marijuana in New Hampshire underscores another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
HB1648 will now move to the Senate, where it will first need to pass out of committee before the full chamber can consider it.