CONCORD, N.H. (Jan. 6, 2022) – Today, 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 coalition of six representatives sponsored House Bill 629 (HB629). 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, three of which could be mature. Under the proposed law, individuals would also be able to give up to 3/4 of an ounce of cannabis to another person. HB629 would not authorize retail sales of marijuana.
Today, the full House passed the bill by a vote of 241-113
“It is not – and never has been – the job of government to try to protect you from hurting yourself,” Rep. Max Abramson said ahead of the House vote earlier today. “And outside of the 1950s B horror movies, it has never been the job of government to protect you from a plant.”
Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), tweeted that the House Democrats and Republicans “may not agree on much these days, but they agree it should be legal for adults to grow and possess cannabis for personal use.”
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 HB629 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. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Last year, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 36 states 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.
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.
HB629 will now move to the Senate, where it will first need to pass out of committee before the full chamber can consider it.
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