New Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing in New Hampshire – Boston News, Weather, Sports

CONCORD, Nh (AP) — The New Hampshire legislature is debating recreational marijuana use again, but efforts to legalize it still face significant hurdles.

In the decade since the state legalized medical marijuana, the House of Representatives has passed recreational marijuana bills several times, only to see them killed in the Senate. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was also an opponent, and his office said Wednesday he doesn’t expect new legislation to reach his desk this year.

Undeterred, a coalition including both the New Hampshire ACLU and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity is backing a bipartisan bill to legalize the drug, regulate and tax retail outlets, and allow it to be grown at home. Most of the proceeds would be used to reduce state pension obligations, while some would go to substance abuse prevention programs and other groups.

Sponsors include both Republican House Majority Leader Jason Osborne and Democratic House Speaker Matt Wilhelm.

“What you see is the culmination of several months of work by a whole coalition of groups and advocates, from the business side to the consumer side, from the civil rights side to the economic freedom side, as well as the recovery community and people concerned about safety of children,” Osborne told the House Committee on Commerce and Consumer Affairs. “It’s time we got something done.”

Wilhelm emphasized the lasting damage unequal enforcement of current marijuana laws is doing to people of color, the potential benefits of legalization, and polls showing more than 70% of residents support it.

“It is clear that communities, families, pension security and the economy will be stronger once we legalize cannabis in New Hampshire,” he said.

Opponents raised health and public safety concerns.

Bedford Police Chief John Bryfonski, speaking on behalf of a coalition of 160 police chiefs, said legalizing marijuana has increased “tragedy and chaos on our freeways.”

“There is nothing in this bill that gives law enforcement the ability to protect you and your families from marijuana-impaired drivers,” he said.

Bryfonski argued that the US has already paid a heavy price after being tricked by the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.

“The question now is, will we be outsmarted by the marijuana industry? That’s a decision you have to make,” he said. “But it’s the men and women of law enforcement who have to pick up the pieces.”

When asked Wednesday about the governor’s position on the bill, Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt did not directly respond.

“Governor Sununu has done more on marijuana reform issues than any other governor in New Hampshire history,” Vihstadt said.

Sununu signed legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, expand access to medical marijuana, and create a system to overturn past marijuana possession convictions. But a bill legalizing recreational use never made it to his desk.

“With teenage drug use and overdoses on the rise, don’t expect lawmakers to see this as a time to ignore the data and push it forward,” Vihstadt said.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed, or redistributed.)

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Sarah Y. Kim

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