Members of the N.H. Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday urged the full Senate to snuff out a legislative proposal to legalize marijuana and sell it at state-run stores.
In a unanimous voice vote, the panel marked House Bill 1598 as “inexpedient to legislate” and agreed to place it on the Senate’s consent calendar, where bills are voted on as a group unless a lawmaker requests further discussion. A date hasn’t been set for consideration by the full Senate.
The measure passed the House, 169-156, on March 31. The closeness of that vote raised questions about its chances for success in the Senate. Its sour reception in the Ways and Means Committee amounts to strike two.
“It’s about as dead as it can get,” Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, chairman of that committee, said in an interview. “I’m pretty sure it will be defeated on the floor.”
Rep. Joe Schapiro, D-Keene, was one of those who voted against the bill in the House last month, saying it was “not thought out” and a “problematic bill.”
He supported the measure in an earlier House vote (on Feb. 16) but said he changed his mind on further reflection.
On Wednesday, both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Ways and Means Committee were critical of the bill, whose prime sponsor is Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem.
Following the panel’s action, Abbas also said it appears unlikely the bill will succeed.
“It’s very rare that something would go on the consent calendar and [the committee’s vote] is overturned,” he said in an interview.
Opponents of HB 1598 pointed to potential negative social impacts associated with legalization, including harmful effects on children.
But Abbas noted that neighboring states have already legalized marijuana, and, in his opinion, it’s not a question of if, but when, New Hampshire will do the same.
“What I put together was the most conservative policy I could come up with that would mitigate some of the negative social impacts,” he told the committee.
Selling it at state-run stores, similar to the system for alcohol sales, would reduce the number of places marijuana could be purchased, he said.
The bill would also generally prohibit the sale of edible marijuana products, such as candy and cookies, in an attempt to keep the drug away from kids.
Marijuana products wouldn’t be taxed, keeping prices more reasonable, Abbas said. Instead, under the bill, the state would make money by buying the drug wholesale and selling it retail.
But Giuda told the panel he sees a broad range of problems associated with legalizing marijuana.
“There’s a reason the U.S. military forbids the use of pot or any other drug,” he said. “It has an impact on reaction time. It has an impact on the psychological processes.”
He said the marijuana industry pushes a false narrative that the drug is not harmful.
“National companies are sitting, waiting to pounce as soon as this is legalized,” Giuda said. “They can come into our state and produce addicts and produce misery.”
Giuda, a former Marine, said in Wednesday’s interview with The Sentinel that he has never tried marijuana. Potency of the drug has increased over the years, and it’s not comparable to alcohol, he said.
“You smoke a joint, you’re stoned, period,” he said. “If you have a drink of Scotch, you’re not necessarily impaired.”
Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, the author of an amendment to the bill, told the committee the measure envisions 10 state cannabis stores that would produce $40 million in profit yearly, with half used to reduce state education taxes paid by property owners.
Another 30 percent would help pay off debt accumulated by the N.H. Retirement System. Other money would go to drug-cessation programs, police training and childhood mental health programs.
Lang also said there is a cost to leaving New Hampshire’s marijuana laws unchanged.
“What are we trying to accomplish?” he asked. “We want to stop arresting our citizens and ruining people’s lives for possession of marijuana or use of marijuana.”
Under current law, adults who possess less than three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana are guilty of a violation and subject to a fine of $100, although the state is alone in New England in not legalizing the drug for recreational use.
New Hampshire has had a medical marijuana law since 2013, which allows patients with qualifying medical conditions to register with the state to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis at a time.
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