N.H. Democrats to vote this month on embracing marijuana legalization

  • Money and Marijuana. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • In this April 20, 2017, file photo, a packet of marijuana is seen on the counter at CannaDaddy's Wellness Center marijuana dispensary in Portland, Ore. Three years after Oregon lawmakers created the state's new legal marijuana program, marijuana prices in the state are in free fall and the craft cannabis farmers who put Oregon on the map decades before legalization are losing their businesses to emerging chains and out-of-state investors. AP file

  • Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton at the State House in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

For the Monitor
Published: 6/5/2018 2:36:19 PM

New Hampshire Democrats will decide at their upcoming state convention whether the state party should formally support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana.

“It’s a first. It represents an evolution on the part of the Democratic Party,” said state Rep. Renny Cushing, a longtime champion of legalization.

The entire platform, including the marijuana plank, will be voted on by the 400-600 delegates expected to attend the party’s annual convention in Stratham.

“It’s right where the state of New Hampshire is,” Cushing said of the proposed change. “The legalization of marijuana is more popular than the Legislature or the governor, and it’s only a matter of time before New Hampshire steps up and joins with its neighboring states and legalizes, regulates and taxes marijuana.”

Voters in Massachusetts and Maine in 2016 approved legalizing recreational marijuana. And this year Vermont’s governor signed into law a bill that removes penalties for adults possessing small amounts of marijuana.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu last year signed into law a bill that decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. But an attempt this year to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use failed in the State House. Sununu had promised to veto the legislation if it had reached his desk.

The plank from Cushing, D-Hampton, and a couple of other party activists was initially rejected last week by the state party’s platform committee.

It originally read: “We believe that New Hampshire should treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol, and that cannabis (marijuana) should be legalized, taxed and regulated.”

Cushing said in negotiations following last week’s setback, the reference to alcohol was dropped and the language was shortened to say: “We support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana.”

Cinde Warmington, the chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s platform committee, said the platform subcommittee ultimately voted to approve the new language.

“This is the version of the platform that will be made public on June 11 and voted on at the NHDP Convention on June 23. I am pleased with the civil, honest debate that our committee had on this issue,” she said.

Cushing credited state party Chairman Ray Buckley, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Steve Marchand and Molly Kelly, and New Hampshire Young Democrats for supporting the plank to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

“It just made sense for the party to get in touch and step with its rank and file,” Cushing said. “I’m glad that we’re moving forward. I’m glad that we’re moving from a prohibition to a system where we can deal with marijuana use as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice matter.”

The New Hampshire GOP does not have similar language on marijuana legalization in its party platform.

One top state Democrat who’s not on board with the new language is House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff of Concord.

“If the vote was today, I would probably be voting ‘no’ simply because there is a legislative commission that’s meeting to look at the impact of legalization on the state of New Hampshire,” Shurtleff said.

That commission has met numerous times and is expected to issue its report at the beginning of November.

“As a courtesy to those serving on the commission, I would wait until they finish their work and issue their report,” Shurtleff said.

But he did predict that “in the next (legislative) session I could very well vote for a bill to legalize marijuana.”

Cushing struck an optimistic note.

“I think it’s inevitable. July 1 we’re going to see sales of recreational marijuana for adults in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and I’m pretty sure the sky’s not going to fall on Massachusetts. It’s not going to fall on Maine. It’s not going to fall on Vermont,” he said. “New Hampshire will end up getting in step with our neighboring states in legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana.”

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