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N.H. marijuana legalization bill clears House Criminal Justice committee  

  • The House Criminal Justice committee meets to take up a bill on marijuana legalization, voting in support 10-9, Feb. 21, 2019. Ethan DeWitt—Ethan DeWitt

  • FILE - This Sept. 11, 2018, file photo shows blankets of frost known as trichomes on a budding marijuana flower at an artisanal cannabis farm SLOgrown Genetics, the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Liberal California became the largest legal U.S. marketplace, while conservative Utah and Oklahoma embraced medical marijuana. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel,File) Richard Vogel

Published: 2/21/2019 3:43:50 PM

An effort to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire racked up its first legislative victory of 2019, passing the House Criminal Justice committee Thursday in a narrow 10-9 vote. 

House Bill 481, sponsored by Hampton Rep. Renny Cushing, would legalize the use and personal growth of marijuana for those 21 and older, and would create a tax and regulation structure to allow retail sales in New Hampshire. 

The bill could pull in as much as $31 million a year in tax revenue, according to a rough estimate by the Department of Revenue Administration. But supporters have largely framed the effort as criminal justice reform, pointing to fines and misdemeanor offenses that they say burden low-income people and minorities.  

Critics have countered that legalizing could exacerbate the state’s opioid epidemic, increase the risk to children, and put New Hampshire at odds with federal laws prohibiting the use or sale of cannabis.

Thursday’s vote represents the first time the House Criminal Justice committee has approved the legalization of marijuana, according to Cushing. In past attempts, the bill has been recommended to be killed by that committee, only to be overturned on the House floor. 

The legislation now heads to the House floor. If approved there, it will be likely redirected to at least one further committee before returning again. 

Gov. Chris Sununu has announced he plans to veto the bill if it clears the House and Senate as expected, which would force the chambers into a fight for a veto override.

But Cushing said the bill – informed by a year-long study commission last year – would move the state forward.

“We’re surrounded by states where the adult use of marijuana is not against the law,” Cushing said Thursday. “We have to recognize that the prohibition of marijuana is a failed public policy.”

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

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