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New Hampshire House passes marijuana legalization

  • Buds of marijuana are shown before being placed into packets for sale at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 19, 2009. Pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers should not be targeted for federal prosecution in states that allow medical marijuana, prosecutors were told Monday in a new policy memo issued by the Justice Department. Under the policy spelled out in a three-page legal memo, federal prosecutors are being told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

    Buds of marijuana are shown before being placed into packets for sale at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 19, 2009. Pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers should not be targeted for federal prosecution in states that allow medical marijuana, prosecutors were told Monday in a new policy memo issued by the Justice Department. Under the policy spelled out in a three-page legal memo, federal prosecutors are being told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

  • New Hampshire State House.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor file)

    New Hampshire State House.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor file)

  • Buds of marijuana are shown before being placed into packets for sale at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 19, 2009. Pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers should not be targeted for federal prosecution in states that allow medical marijuana, prosecutors were told Monday in a new policy memo issued by the Justice Department. Under the policy spelled out in a three-page legal memo, federal prosecutors are being told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
  • New Hampshire State House.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor file)

The New Hampshire House voted yesterday to legalize marijuana.

The bill, which passed 170-162 after a long and lively debate, will now go to the House Ways and Means Committee. But it faces a tough road ahead; the bill must again pass the full House and then the Senate before it reaches Gov. Maggie Hassan’s desk.

Hassan, a Democrat who signed a medical marijuana bill into law last year, vowed to veto any marijuana legalization bill. The governor “does not support further efforts to legalize marijuana,” said her spokesman, Marc Goldberg.

The bill that passed the Democratic-controlled House yesterday would permit the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana, authorize its cultivation and impose a tax on its sale.

“We must . . . abandon our reefer madness mentality which has plagued this country for so long,” said Rep. Steve Vaillancourt.

Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican and the bill’s prime sponsor, urged the House to become the first state to pass marijuana legalization through its legislature; voter referendums have legalized the drug in Colorado and Washington state. In a long speech before the House yesterday, Vaillancourt said public opinion about marijuana is changing, and New Hampshire should take advantage of the tax revenue that would come with its legalization and regulation.

Others said the laws in Colorado and Washington state are new, and New Hampshire should wait.

“Doesn’t it make sense to protect our children and wait awhile to see what actually happens in the states of Colorado and Washington?” asked Rep. William Butynski, a Hinsdale Democrat. “If this is legalized, I hope the people on the other side are correct, that it won’t cause a problem. But given my experience, both professionally and personally, I don’t think there’s a chance of that.”

Butynski, a retired substance abuse expert, raised concerns about the increasing potency of marijuana plants. He cited increases in car crashes and emergency room visits related to marijuana use. People under the influence of marijuana are twice as likely to become involved in motor vehicle accidents than those who are not using it, he said, citing New Hampshire Department of Safety statistics.

Under the bill approved yesterday, individuals 21 and older could purchase marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use. Public smoking of marijuana would be prohibited. The state would tax manufacturing facilities and stores at a rate of $30 per ounce and institute a 15 percent sales tax on all marijuana sold.

The House Ways and Means Committee will address issues with regulation and taxation, Vaillancourt said.

Rep. Laurie Harding, a Democrat from Lebanon, said she supported the medical marijuana law that passed last year, and has supported efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession. Decriminalizing marijuana would keep the drug illegal, but would not charge individuals with a crime for possessing a small amount. Harding said legalizing the growth, distribution and possession of marijuana was too large a step for the House to take.

“We are being confronted with serious regulation issues,” Harding said. “The (Department of Revenue Administration) does not want to have to regulate legalized marijuana. In order to regulate appropriately, they’re going to have to write rules for cultivation facilities, for establishments. . . . It means they’ll have to write rules on production, on manufacturing facilities. They’ll have to write rules on retail stores and how retail stores will function, and on testing facilities as well.”

Several representatives who spoke against the bill yesterday said New Hampshire has one of the highest rates in the country of marijuana use by minors.

But Rep. Ruth Gage, a Goffstown Democrat, suggested that legalization would not change that rate, and that regulation could perhaps keep the drug away from underage users.

“Have our current policies been successful at keeping marijuana away from young people?” Gage asked. “The answer is clearly no.”

Yesterday’s vote to send the marijuana legalization bill to the House Ways and Means Committee came after more than two hours of debate and several close votes on the bill.

License plate scanners

In other action yesterday, the House voted against a bill that would have legalized automatic license plate scanners in New Hampshire.

The 214-135 vote indefinitely postponed the bill, so it cannot be brought up again this session. 

The bill would have allowed police officers to use automatic license plate scanners that collect data from passing cars and run them through a database of plates connected to crimes. 

Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican, said it would lead to a potentially dangerous amount of data collection by the government. That practice is “not consistent with New Hampshire values,” Kurk said.

“In a year when we’ve heard the (Edward) Snowden revelations about the National Security Administration collecting data . . . and storing them so that they can connect the dots at some future time . . . we have to ask ourselves whether we in New Hampshire want to go down that road of collecting metadata,” he said.

The bill would have required police to purge all information from their systems after three minutes. But some opponents worried that the police would not correctly purge the data, or would seek to extend the amount of time they could keep it.

Rep. Geoffrey Hirsch, a Bradford Democrat, said driving is a privilege in New Hampshire, and drivers already must register their license plates. 

“Implicit in that registration is an acknowledgement that those plates are there for public scrutiny, for identification and for recognition,” Hirsch said. “That’s part of the process. So how can there be an expectation of privacy about our license plates?”

Victims’ fund tabled

The House tabled a bill that would have established a fund to compensate fraud victims of Financial Resources Mortgage, the Lakes Region firm that collapsed in 2009.

The Senate passed the bill this spring, but the House voted to retain it. A motion to table the bill yesterday passed easily, 324-10, and without debate.

The House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee had no recommendation for the bill; its members disagreed on whether the state should take responsibility for failing to shut down FRM and for its decision to place the firm in bankruptcy.

FRM, which was based in Meredith, has been described as the largest Ponzi scheme in New Hampshire history. More than 250 investors lost about $33 million when it collapsed.

Skiing for seniors

Seniors can continue skiing for free at Cannon Mountain.

The House tabled a bill yesterday that would have ended free ski lift passes on weekdays to residents age 65 and older, a long-standing policy at the state-owned ski area.

The bill aimed to offer seniors free admission to state parks, but required them to pay for ski lifts and trams. Seniors would have still paid for admission to the Flume Gorge and the state’s other enterprise functions.

Rep. Brad Bailey, a Monroe Republican, spoke against the bill based on the change it would make to Cannon Mountain’s system. 

“Our state’s senior citizens see this not as a right, but a privilege afforded them as a thanks in retirement for the many years when they purchased lift tickets for themselves and their sons and daughters,” Bailey said.

The House voted, 190-150, to table the bill.

Protecting the unemployed

The House passed a bill prohibiting discrimination against the unemployed on a close vote, 179-170. 

Rep. Chuck Weed, a Keene Democrat, said the bill would prevent employers from turning down unemployed individuals based simply on their lack of a current job, and help people find work.

“We have a number of people who are long-term unemployed,” Weed said. 

Others said employers should be free to choose who they want to hire, and argued that discrimination against the unemployed is not a problem in New Hampshire.

The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.

Title loan regulation

The House voted yesterday to cap interest rates on title loans.

Title loans use the loan recipient’s car as collateral, allowing the car to be repossessed if the loan is not repaid. Interest would be capped at 25 percent for the first month and 3 percent for every additional month a loan goes unpaid.

Rep. Kermit Williams, who proposed that interest limit on the House floor yesterday, said it is fair because title loans are meant to be repaid within one month.

“This amendment will give us some middle ground, letting the lender charge the current maximum for a truly short, one-month loan, while ensuring that longer term borrowers pay a more reasonable rate,” said Williams, a Wilton Democrat.

Rep. Ken Gidge, a Democrat from Nashua, said few borrowers have complaints about title loans. He asked the House to vote against the additional limit on interest rates, which are currently capped at 25 percent per month.

The bill passed, 212-129. It will now go before the Senate.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

Legacy Comments6

Politicians are banning Big Gulps, salt on restaurant tables, banning smoking cigarettes in your own home ( Calif) and they have the idiocy to legalize POT - way to go democrats. The liberal run public schools have dumbed down generations already - why not just end the USA's greatness with one full swoop.

The "liberal run public schools" are nonexistent, except in your mind. Education is the only entity known to man which is run by people who have no experience in it. Politicians, business people, etc. These are not the kind of people who should be making education policy. But they are. THAT is what is wrong with education today. Not unions, not condoms on cucumbers, not liberal indoctrination. Things go on in public education today that are considered normal that would not be tolerated in any other industry or business. I mean, would you pay cops in high crime areas less than cops in low crime areas? Just think about that one for a second . . .

From the non-user standpoint, It is important to note the dangers of this bill failing. Most people understand the dangers of synthetic pot, but most people do not understand the consequences of unregulated pot in the modern world. Only in recent history has pot been tampered with to alter and maximize its psychotropic properties. Part of that alteration includes breeds that we have yet to see in the United States. Simple research shows an increasing problem in Europe, especially England, in pot they call skunk weed (not like innate US skunk weed), which gives the users a similar high to LSD. As wild as it sounds, a simple web search will show credible sources showing the danger of people's behavior with this type of pot, which supposedly is not laced with another drug, and has resulted in actual homicides. This is a problem waiting to happen unless we act. Therefore, this legislation should be improved, and modified to ensure appropriate levels of the psychoactive ingredients remain 'safe.' A state lab determining the levels, which should be printed on the packages, is a good start with the newly found tax income. The only other issue with legal pot is secondhand smoke for children in the home. The argument that people will do that anyway just doesn't stand. Smoking pot with children in the household needs to be addressed, or more specifically, be made illegal in the passage of any bill.

Sent the following to ALL State Reps Monday: Dear representatives of the people of New Hampshire-- Two simple questions: 1) Do you really represent the people of New Hampshire? If so, you must know that a recent poll by Public Policy Polling found 53% of New Hampshire voters support changing state law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, only 37% were opposed. A recent WMUR poll found even higher support. 2) Are you even remotely intellectually honest? If so, AND you oppose HB 492, could you please demonstrate this by providing your "Top Ten Reasons” to NOT legalize Marijuana Now? Top Ten Reasons to Legalize Marijuana Now 10. Hemp benefits are denied. Hemp can be made into paper, paneling, plastics, clothing and thousands of other useful products. The highly nutritious seeds can be used to make flour, cooking oil and cattle feed. This environmentally friendly plant grows without herbicides, nourishes the soil, matures quickly and provides high yields. It's the number-one biomass producer in the world - ten tons per acre in four months. It could be an excellent fuel-producing crop. Hemp, "nature's perfect plant," could bring a bonanza to hurting American farmers while greatly reducing America's dependence on fossil fuels, which could significantly mitigate climate change. 9. Prohibition diverts billions from the needy. More than 50 government agencies feed at the drug war trough. Food stamps and other social programs are being slashed while billions are spent trying to stop adults from using marijuana. 8. Prohibition is clearly counterproductive. Guaranteeing massive profits to anyone on earth who can produce and deliver marijuana to our streets cannot do anything but assure that even more will be produced and delivered. 7. Criminalizing marijuana lacks moral justification. A real crime implies a victim and a perpetrator. Can you imagine being jailed for robbing yourself? As insane as this sounds, our government has done the equivalent by making adult use of marijuana a crime. Only a depraved, corrupt government could invent a crime you commit against yourself. 6. Marijuana users are not debased human beings. Cultures throughout history - and pre-history! - have altered their minds with a variety of drugs. Billions around the world derive positive benefits from mind-altering drugs (especially from alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and marijuana). Demonizing and criminalizing some drugs, while approving others without rational criteria, is clearly arbitrary and deceitful. Why are marijuana users criminals while alcohol and tobacco users are not? Why are marijuana dealers demonized, but alcohol and tobacco dealers are not? 5. Marijuana is effective medicine. There's overwhelming evidence that marijuana can safely relieve pain, nausea and vomiting caused by various illnesses. In fact, marijuana is patently safer than many commonly prescribed drugs. 4. Promising medical research is thwarted. The discovery of naturally occurring marijuana-like substances in the human body that activate so-called cannabinoid receptors has opened up vast possibilities for new medicines derived from the 66 or so cannabinoids identified in marijuana. These receptors are not just in the brain, but also found in many other parts of the body including the immune, endocrine and reproductive systems. 3. Billions in potential taxes go to drug cartels. Our cash-strapped states are being cheated out of billions that could be obtained by taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol. 2. Thousands of prohibition murders occur each year. Mexico is the world's largest exporter of marijuana (most goes to the United States). There were at least 24,000 prohibition-related murders in Mexico since 2006. Thousands more died here, also a direct result of marijuana prohibition. 1. Live free or die? Really? Prohibition denies our most basic human right. Prohibition takes away our right of sovereignty over our own bodies and gives this power to government. Does any other human right make sense if we don't have sovereignty over our own bodies? There's a word for people who don't have sovereignty over their own bodies: slaves. The Glaring Truth About the Drug War The drug war is a blatantly dishonest, extremely expensive, highly destructive, grossly unjust, abject failure of our government. Despite 40 years and $1 trillion-plus of taxpayer money spent trying to stop - not robbery, not rape, not murder, not even shoplifting - but mostly trying to stop adults from using marijuana; despite draconian punishments; despite jailing millions of nonviolent Americans; despite thousands of prohibition-related murders each year, illegal drugs are cheaper, purer and more readily available than ever. The drug war is a vast government scam guaranteed to be perpetually futile. Prohibition only pretends to fight drugs. In fact, it guarantees massive profits to anyone on the planet who can produce and deliver prohibited drugs to our streets. Jailing drug dealers just creates lucrative job openings for more efficient, more ruthless, eager replacements. Only a small percentage of illegal drugs are intercepted, and these are easily and cheaply replaced. Prohibition creates, sustains and handsomely rewards the illegal drug industry while pretending to fight that very same industry. Like the classic mafia protection racket, our government creates a perpetual problem and then charges us exorbitantly to "protect" us from it. This abomination continues unabated because our government is addicted to the taxpayer billions it wastes year after year after year pretending to fight an enemy created and sustained by prohibition itself. Marijuana is the linchpin of the drug war. Legalizing marijuana will sound the death knell for this devastating crime against humanity.

Well done. The gateway is not the drug itself, the gateway is the persons selling weed that are tied to illegal pathways of MANY kinds. Legalization removes that market connection and provides control and revenue to the state. The state of CO stands to gain some 400 MILLION dollars. ($400,000,000) That is money they are going to put toward education and not back into cartel pockets. Most government people in general are simply incompetent. They sell cigarettes for revenue and they have no medical upside at all. While 60% of Amercians actually learned from the lesson prohibition taught us and support legalization, the lawmakers continue to bury their collective heads up their sands. Why? I think because they are making too much in payoffs from the Drug War Industry. Cartels (Drug, Energy and Health) and Politicians working together is what is happening and has been for decades and the working people paying the tab are suffering. Business as usual under Hassan.

Now if only the fearful and misinformed decision-makers could get past the phony counter-arguments. Legalization will not open a can of worms, but will lead to a paradigm shift that serves all us regular folks. This is what they really fear, though they may be unable to recognize or articulate it.

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