CONCORD, N.H. (Jan. 24, 2022) – On Friday, a New Hampshire House committee passed a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
A bipartisan coalition of nine representatives introduced House Bill 1598 (HB1598) on Jan. 5. The legislation would legalize the possession and sale of marijuana with a regulatory structure similar to the one currently in place for alcohol. The state would run marijuana dispensaries where adults 21 and over could buy up to 4 ounces of marijuana. The proposed law would not legalize home cultivation.
Per Chris Maidment of Americans for Prosperity, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee recommended the passage of HB1598 by a 17-4 vote.
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 HB1598 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
New Hampshire is one of a growing number of states simply 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. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 36 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational 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.
HB1598 will move to the full House for further consideration.