Pubdate: Tue, 28 Jan 2014
Source: New Hampshire, The (U of NH Edu)
Copyright: 2014 The New Hamphire
Author: Patrick McGoldrick, Staff Writer


Following the national tide of public opinion favoring the 
legalization of marijuana, the Democrat-controlled New Hampshire 
house passed a bill - HB 492-FN-LOCAL - on Jan. 16 that would 
legalize marijuana for recreational use.

In passing the bill, the New Hampshire House made history by becoming 
the first legislative body to pass a bill that would legalize 
recreational marijuana.

There are currently only two states in the Union - Colorado and 
Washington - where recreational marijuana is legal, and both states' 
laws were passed through public referendum, as opposed to legislative action.

The bill aims to construct laws regarding marijuana consumption, 
possession, and distribution similar to the state's established 
alcohol laws, effectively treating marijuana as a controlled 
substance. The current draft of the bill breaks down its intentions 
into three laws: first, the bill states that only persons 21 and 
older have the legal right to the new law - persons under 21 are 
prohibited from engaging with marijuana; second, persons with the 
intention to wholesale, retail, cultivate or test marijuana must 
obtain proper licensing; third, that a tax on the sale of marijuana 
be levied at both wholesale, manufacturing and retail levels.

As Colorado and Washington garner more national attention - serving 
as a litmus test for future nationwide legalization - the local media 
spotlight will be on the New Hampshire Ways and Means Committee. The 
committee is scheduled to meet this Thursday to revise the Bill 
before it is sent back to the House, where it is likely to pass 
again, according to Laura McCrystal of the Concord Monitor. McCrystal 
is basing this prediction on sources in the Merrimack County.

Despite promising momentum for proponents of the bill, New Hampshire 
residents are unlikely to see dispensaries next to their local grocer 
anytime soon.

Governor Maggie Hassan has publicly stated she is against legalizing 
recreational use, affirming in a statement to WMUR that "it's the 
wrong message to send to young people" and she would further veto any 
such bill that made it to her desk.

This hardline position against recreational marijuana comes not six 
months after Governor Hassan signed House Bill 573, effectively 
legalizing the state-wide use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. 
New Hampshire is presently one of 20 states to allow marijuana for 
medicinal purposes.

In a WMUR poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey 
Center, it was found that more than half (51 percent) of adult 
residents support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The 
support increased to 60 percent when those polled were explained the 
details of HB-492, the bill currently under amendment in the House 
Ways and Means Committee.

"The whole point of elected officials is to be the voice of the 
people, right?" junior and environmental science major Conor Madison 
said, when asked his opinion on Hassan's promise to veto HB-492 
against public opinion. "We've got acres on acres of forest, the 
people know what those woods are good for; it's a shame the New 
Hampshire government doesn't."

The House voted 170-162 in favor of HB-492, though not strictly 
across party lines. Marijuana legalization has characteristically 
been divided between party lines - Democrats voting in favor of 
legalization and Republicans against. In the New Hampshire 
legislature 106 Democrats and 64 Republicans voted for the Bill, with 
82 Democrats and 79 Republicans voted against.

Governor Hassan, a Democrat, opposes the bill. On the behalf of the 
Governor, her staff posted a Facebook status on Jan. 16, following 
the House ruling that read, in part: "She [Governor Hassan] does not 
support further efforts to legalize marijuana ... the Governor 
believes we should focus on addressing our substance use challenges 
and strengthening public health through measures like Medicaid 
expansion." The Facebook post currently has 129 likes and 1,372 
comments, the vast majority of which oppose the governor's position.

While the moral arguments for and against legalizing recreational 
marijuana elude party classification, the language of the bill 
focuses heavily on the State's fiscal impact.

Major sources of financial gain from the bill are derived from a 
combination of a tax levy and saved public resources that can be 
allocated to more serious crimes or projects.

The bill states a planned tax on retailers and manufacturers at $30 
per ounce and a 15 percent sales tax. The Department of Revenue 
Administration at this time cannot determine the fiscal impact on the 
state the bill would have, but general estimations regarding savings 
are outlined in the bill by referencing the freed resources that the 
bill would grant.

Under current state law regarding the possession and sale of 
marijuana, anyone found with under an ounce of marijuana is guilty of 
a class A misdemeanor - subject to a maximum of one year in prison 
and a $2,000 fine. Persons caught selling or with 
possession-with-intent-to-sell are subject to felony charges 
contingent on the amount of marijuana the individual was caught with. 
Felony charges range from a minimum of three years in prison and a 
$25,000 fine for under an ounce, to 20 years in prison and a $300,000 
for amounts of five pounds or greater.

HB-492 would legalize possession under an ounce, and do away with 
felony-level charges. The bill estimates savings could be $275 per 
misdemeanor and $756.25 per felony. Further, in cases where assigned 
counsel attorneys were used there could be savings of up to $1,300 
for a misdemeanor and $4,100 for a felony charge.

The average annual cost to incarcerate an individual in a country 
correctional facility is $35,000, according to the New Hampshire 
Association of Counties.

Class A misdemeanor charges are strict, but Deputy Chief Kelly of the 
Durham Police Department said class A misdemeanors are rarely charged.

"I can tell you from experience," Deputy Kelly said of typical 
marijuana violations, "a first-time offender with no priors will 
typically get their sentence reduced to a violation offense and a $350 fine."

In a media interview posted on the N.H. NORML site (the N.H. chapter 
of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), New 
Hampshire chapter director Erica Golter supported the New Hampshire 
initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

"Everything you need to feel better physically and emotionally can be 
grown in a garden," Golter said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom