New marijuana legalization bill gets New Hampshire hearing

CONCORD, N.h. (AP) — The New Hampshire Legislature is once again debating recreational use of marijuana but efforts to legalize it still face significant hurdles.

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

Undeterred, a coalition that includes both the ACLU of New Hampshire and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity is backing a bipartisan bill to legalize the drug, regulate and tax retail operations and allow it to be grown at home. Most of the revenue would go toward reducing the state’s pension liability, with some going to substance abuse prevention programs and other groups.

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

“What you are looking at is a result of a number of months of work by an entire coalition of groups and advocates, everything from the business side to the consumer side, the civil rights side to the economic liberty side, as well as the recovery community and people concerned about child safety,” Osborne told the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee. “It’s about time we get something done.”

Wilhelm emphasized the lasting harm that unequal enforcement of current marijuana laws has on people of color, the potential advantages of legalization and polling that shows more than 70% of residents support it.

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

Opponents raised concerns about health and public safety.

Bedford Police Chief John Bryfonski, speaking on behalf of an association of 160 chiefs, said marijuana legalization has increased “tragedy and chaos on our highways.”

“There is nothing in this bill that will create an opportunity for law enforcement to be able to protect you and your families from marijuana impaired drivers,” he said.

Bryfonski argued that the U.S. already has already paid a great price after having been tricked by the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.

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

Asked for the governor’s position on the bill Wednesday, Sununu spokesperson Ben Vihstadt did not answer directly.

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

Sununu signed legislation decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, expanding access to medical marijuana and creating a system for annulling old convictions for marijuana possession. But a bill to legalize recreational use has never reached his desk.

“With teen drug use and overdoses on the rise, it is not anticipated that the legislature will see this as a time to ignore the data and move it forward,” Vihstadt said.

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