Home grow marijuana bill picks up more support in House

  • Members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted in favor of a bill to allow the home cultivation of marijuana, 13-7, Jan 28, 2020. Courtesy—Courtesy

  • FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019, file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif. Federal health officials are issuing a national warning against marijuana use by adolescents and pregnant women, as more states legalize some forms of the drug's use. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File) Richard Vogel

Monitor staff
Published: 1/28/2020 6:50:53 PM

The difference is three votes, but advocates for marijuana legalization say it’s a start.

A bill to legalize the possession and home grow of small quantities of marijuana was recommended “ought to pass” by a key House committee Tuesday in a 13-7 vote.

That’s an increase in support from 12 months ago, when that same committee, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, voted for a separate legalization bill by a 10-9 margin.

The difference: This year’s bill has pared back its ambitions.

Last year’s House Bill 481 set out a retail legalization proposal that included a taxation scheme and a state enforcement department. This year, House Bill 1648, would only allow Granite Staters to possess, grow and give out cannabis products.

It’s a change in strategy that legalization supporters say is already winning over more lawmakers.

“Like most Granite Staters, this committee understands that it’s time for New Hampshire to stop prohibiting cannabis” said Matt Simon, New England political director at the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s time for the House, Senate, and Gov. Chris Sununu to work together and move cannabis policies into the 21st century.”

On Tuesday, the committee entertained the same arguments New Hampshire lawmakers have traded for years.

Rep. Renny Cushing, the Hampton Democrat chairing the commission, acknowledged that the new bill deviates from the old one in one important respect: it doesn’t bring in revenue.

“Three are a number of reasons why people would have supported that legislation,” he said of HB 481. “Certainly one component of it is it would allow for an array of legalization and regulation of cannabis product. That having been said, this bill doesn’t do that, it doesn’t address that. It’s much more narrow. It simply no longer makes it a crime to have in possession a small amount of cannabis.”

Rep. Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, said he supported the intention of the bill but took issue with the provisions around home grow. The bill allows up to six plants in a home – up to three of which can be mature – but also imposes a string of other limitations for the amount of cannabis products that can be in a house beyond the plants.

“Law enforcement would really have no way to enforce it,” Abbas said. “I look at it as something that creates a false expectation for the public.”

And Rep. Dave Testerman, a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization, said the bill, even in its modified form, would have a steep challenge in the Senate.

“The reason this got killed in the Senate was that for the first time, the effects of marijuana policy … were put forward,” Testerman said. He added: “Overall medical and psychological impacts of cannabis have never really been discussed and addressed.”

Gov. Chris Sununu has expressed strong opposition to legalization efforts in the state, arguing that it could exacerbate the state’s opioid and alcohol usage and promising after his re-election to veto any legalization bill that hit his desk.

Last year’s main legalization effort never made it that far; after concerns grew about New Hampshire rushing into establishing a retail apparatus, HB 481 was sent to “interim study” by the Senate earlier this year.

Gun bills return

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee also took votes Tuesday on two firearms bills the State House has seen in the past.

House Bill 1101 would impose a three-day waiting period for people interested in purchasing firearms. And House Bill 1379 would require background checks for all firearms sales, public or private.

Both bills were recommended to the full House 11-9, largely along party lines.

Proponents of the bills said the waiting period bill would help prevent suicides and violent crimes but allowing a “cooling off” period for people looking to immediately buy a gun.

“This will give the families of these people the opportunity to have two maybe three more conversations with these people before they do something that they can never take back,” said Rep. David Meuse, a Portsmouth Democrat.

And they said the background check law could help cut down on arms transfers to criminals, even if not eliminating them.

But opponents countered that the waiting period bill would deprive those facing threats of the ability to arm and defend themselves quickly. And they said that it would drive gun owners to surrounding states that don’t have those limitations, hurting local business.

Rep. Terry Roy, a Deerfield Republican, argued that the background check bill would be ineffective and impractical.

“There’s no way to enforce it,” he said. “There’s no way to carry it out. It’s really not going to help anyone.”

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed versions of both bills last year.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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