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2 marijuana bills up for a vote in the House

Matt Simon with the Marijuana Policy Project said yesterday he’s confident that this will be the year New Hampshire legalizes medical marijuana, but as for any further marijuana reform, he thinks that will have to wait.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this week on two marijuana bills, one to legalize medical use and the other to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of pot.

“There’s an increasing appetite in the House for reforms, and I would say that appetite goes beyond therapeutic use,” Simon said.

He pointed to a vote earlier this year in the House, where a bill calling for blanket legalization of pot garnered a surprising 112 votes. Though marijuana is decriminalized in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island and similar legislation is under consideration in Vermont, Simon said New Hampshire might not go that route. That’s because many believe a system to tax and regulate recreational marijuana is preferable to decriminalization, which removes legal penalties but leaves the business aspect in the underworld, he said.

A bill to tax and regulate marijuana was retained by a House committee for further study. Lawmakers in New Hampshire are hoping to learn from the implementation of such systems in Washington and Colorado before taking action.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has endorsed a tightly regulated medical marijuana law but has come out against any further legalization. She has also voiced concerns about a provision in the House bill that allows patients or caregivers to grow their own plants.

The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee reduced that number from four to three and added restrictions aimed at stopping out of state patients from purchasing or growing marijuana in New Hampshire. It also tightened language concerning eligibility, requiring patients to show they have a qualifying illness, not just certain symptoms. Regulators could approve conditions not listed on a case-by-case basis.

Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley said yesterday he believes there’s enough support in his chamber to pass a medical marijuana bill, but he added there’s good possibility the House’s version will be dismantled in the Senate and sent back with significant changes.

This is the fourth time in six years that lawmakers have tried to pass a medical marijuana bill. Former Democratic governor John Lynch vetoed two previous attempts and a third was killed in the Senate.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia already allow people who are sick or in chronic pain to legally buy and use marijuana.

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