Cannabis stores could sprout under bill co-sponsored by Winchester rep

The Keene Sentinel
Published: 1/23/2022 10:29:22 PM
Modified: 1/23/2022 10:28:06 PM

The possession and use of marijuana would be legalized and its sale regulated by the state under a bill discussed in a N.H. House committee on Thursday.

Rep. Jennifer Rhodes, R-Winchester, one of the co-sponsors, said in an interview that there is strong public interest in such legislation, especially since many other states, including those neighboring New Hampshire, allow recreational use of the drug.

“I’ve been told by a lot of my constituents that it is far safer than alcohol, and of course that prohibition ended years and years ago,” she said. “This is something that a lot of people wanted and thought that it was necessary for New Hampshire.”

Rhodes likened responsible use of marijuana to having a beer around a campfire.

Under House Bill 1598, the state would regulate marijuana sales similar to the way it regulates alcohol sales.

The state would run retail cannabis stores, where marijuana would be sold to those 21 and older. The possession limit would be 4 ounces. It would be illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or transfer it to minors.

The bill would not allow personal cultivation or smoking it in public or in a moving vehicle. The N.H. Liquor Commission would adopt regulations for cannabis stores and cultivation facilities by Dec. 1.

In testimony before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Thursday, Frank Knaack, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said the state’s current marijuana laws do more harm than good.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor with a fine of $100, but many people don’t realize these penalties can do a lot of damage, he said.

“There is collateral harm,” Knaack said. “People can lose financial aid, housing and child custody. A fine of $100 may not seem like a big deal, but for some people it’s a huge deal. The present law puts people into the criminal legal system.”

He said the ACLU doesn’t condone marijuana use. “But the current prohibitionist approach is destructive, wasting tax dollars, ruining lives, and it doesn’t make us any safer,” he said.

Speaking against the legalization measure was John Bryfonski, the police chief in Bedford and vice president of the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police.

He said law enforcement officers see the harmful effects of substance misuse on a daily basis in the form of traffic accidents and criminal infractions.

“Yes, there are states around us that have legalized and commercialized cannabis,” Bryfonski said. “But studies show in each of those states cannabis use by youths go up when cannabis is legalized.

“Is it prevalent now? Yes, but this bill most assuredly will increase cannabis use by our most vulnerable population, which is our youth.”

Also testifying was Emily Shanahan, who described herself as a certified prevention specialist.

“There’s been a significant body of evidence that demonstrates the health, safety and economic harm of marijuana legalization far outweigh the perceived benefits,” she said.

“With our state facing a pandemic, an opioid crisis and a youth vaping epidemic, why are we considering legalizing another addictive drug?”

She also noted that the state allows medicinal marijuana use. That law went into effect in 2016.

The committee made no immediate decision on whether to recommend the bill to the full House. Its sponsors include Democrats and Republicans.

The measure is one of several before the N.H. Legislature this year concerning marijuana.

On Jan. 6, the House passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would allow adults to possess up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants. At the time, Rep. Max Abramson, R-Seabrook, spoke in favor of that measure.

“It is not and never has been the job of government to try to protect you from hurting yourself, and outside of 1950s B horror movies, it has never been the job of government to protect you from a plant,” he said.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit
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