CONCORD, N.H. (March 20, 2023) – Last Thursday, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would legalize marijuana for adults in the state, despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition. Unlike most legalization efforts, the bill would not create any tax or regulatory program.
Rep. Kevin Verville (R) and three fellow Republicans introduced House Bill 360 (HB360) on Jan. 9. The legislation would remove marijuana from the state’s list of banned substances and strike provisions in current law that refer to criminal penalties for cannabis-related offenses. The proposed law would not create any kind of tax or regulatory program for marijuana. It would effectively become legal to possess, cultivate, buy, and sell cannabis just like tomatoes.
People under 18 in possession of marijuana would be subject to a substance misuse assessment. People between 18 and 21 would face a violation for simple possession, effectively decriminalizing marijuana for that age group.
The bill includes provisions to allow people with past marijuana convictions to have their records expunged.
On March 16, the House rejected the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee’s “inexpedient to legislate” report by a 210-160 vote, and then passed HB360 on a voice vote.
The House has also passed a bill that would legalize marijuana with a regulatory and tax structure for commercial sales and cultivation.
Verville called his approach “simple” and “short.”
“When bills get complicated and they get long and they get confused, people vote against them,” he told Marijuana Moment. “This is the shortest, easiest way to affect the change that the majority of our constituents want—and that is the legalization of cannabis.”
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains a 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.
New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana in 2013, removing a layer of laws prohibiting cannabis even though federal prohibition remains in effect. The passage of either bill would remove another layer of enforcement laws. 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
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. In 2021, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. With Missouri and Maryland legalizing marijuana in November, there are now 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 21 legalizing for adult recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “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.”
HB360 will move to the Senate for further consideration. At the time of this report, it had not been referred to a Senate committee. Once it gets a committee assignment, it will need to get a hearing. An “ought to pass” recommendation would greatly increase its prospects of passage in the full Senate.
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