State House Live: House votes to legalize, tax marijuana
5:14 p.m.: The New Hampshire House voted this afternoon 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. It would need to again pass the full House and then the Senate before it is sent to Gov. Maggie Hassan.
The bill would legalize one ounce of marijuana, authorize its cultivation and sale and impose a tax on its sale.
"We must . . . abandon our reefer madness mentality that has plagued this country for so long," said Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican and the bill's prime sponsor.
Vaillancourt urged the House to become the first state to pass marijuana legalization through its legislature; voter referendums have passed marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington.
Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright called marijuana unhealthy and addictive. She said its legalization would lead to companies marketing it to young people.
"Think big tobacco, big alcohol and corporate enterprise," said Harriott-Gathright, a Nashua Democrat.
Rep. Ruth Gage, a Goffstown Democrat, disagreed. She said adolescents are already have easy access to marijuana, and that regulation of marijuana would actually cause them to use less of it.
"Have our current policies been successful at keeping marijuana away from young people?" Gage said. "The answer is clearly no."
Rep. William Butynski, a retired substance abuse expert, urged House members to vote against the bill.
"Doesn't it make sense to protect our children and wait a while to see what actually happens in the states of Colorado and Washington?" said 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."
Vaillancourt, who delivered a long speech before the House today, said society's attitude toward marijuana is changing. New Hampshire would benefit from taxing marijuana sales, he said.
3:00 p.m.: 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.
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 place it 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 the firm collapsed.
A motion to table the bill passed easily, 324-10, and without debate.
12:41 p.m.: The House tabled a bill that would end free skiing on Cannon Mountain for seniors.
The bill went would have offered seniors free admission to state parks, but required them to pay to use ski lifts and trams. Seniors would also still have to pay for admission to the Flume Gorge and the state's other enterprise functions.
Cannon Mountain is the only ski area in New Hampshire that offers free admission to seniors. Residents age 65 and older can receive free lift tickets on weekdays. 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.
12:27 p.m.: 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.
11:29 a.m.: The House has 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.
"Anytime you centralize data, there is an opportunity for those inside the system or outside the system to take that data and misuse it," he said.
The bill would have required police to purge all information from their systems after three minutes. Kurk said he worried that the police would seek to extend the amount of time they can keep the data.
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?"
Be sure to check back with the Monitor for more updates as the House session continues.
The House has a packed agenda as it convenes today. The bills awaiting action would address issues including GMO labeling, decriminalizing marijuana, drug testing for medical workers and establishing Keno as a lottery game.
How far lawmakers will get on the list remains to be seen. We’ll keep you updated as the day unfolds.