×

House adds medical pot qualifiers, backs decriminalization



Associated Press
Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday in support of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and expanding access to medical marijuana for people suffering from chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The bills won support from more than 300 of the chamber’s 400 members. Members also backed a bill allowing people to grow their own medical marijuana by a smaller margin. The bills will now move to the Senate, which has typically taken a stricter approach to marijuana-related legislation. The bills were voted on during a marathon House session with lawmakers voting on education policy, election law, LGBT rights and dozens of others issues.

The decriminalization bill would remove criminal penalties for possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana. New Hampshire is the only New England state without some form of decriminalization in place. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk, and advocates praised the House’s action.

“We hope their colleagues in the Senate will agree that our tax dollars and law enforcement officials’ time would be better spent addressing serious crimes,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Roughly 2,000 New Hampshire residents have access to medical marijuana since the state’s first dispensary opened in 2016. State law lists specific conditions – such as cancer, glaucoma or HIV – that qualify someone for medical marijuana use. House members passed two bills that add chronic pain and PTSD to the list of conditions. The chamber rejected adding “opioid addiction” to a qualifier for medical marijuana.

Supporters argued that marijuana may be a more successful and less addictive treatment than opioids for chronic pain patients.

The House also passed legislation that would allow some schools to send students to private schools using taxpayer dollars. Districts that don’t offer school in every grade level, as many small towns do not, could choose to use state money to pay for private school tuition for the town’s students.

Democrats argue such a policy would undermine public schools. But Republicans say parents should get to choose the best option for their children.

“Would you send your child to a failing public school or a successful private school?” Republican Rep. Rick Ladd, the sponsor, asked. “Obviously you would take the school that is doing the good job.”

On election law, House members voted to give the Secretary of State new powers to investigate potential voter fraud, a job now reserved for the attorney general’s office. After each election, the secretary of state’s office mails a voter verification card to anyone who registered or voted without showing proper ID. Several hundred cards were returned in 2016 as undeliverable.

The AG’s office said it can’t afford to investigate the returned cards. Republicans said handing the duty to the secretary of state’s office will better ensure election integrity. But Democrats argued that properly funding the AG’s office would be more appropriate.