Marijuana Matters: What are neighboring states doing about legalization?

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Vermont's limited marijuana legalization law went into effect last month. How are neighboring state's like New Hampshire and New York dealing with the pot legalization question.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday appointed a group of state government, law enforcement, and academic officials to draft legislation for regulating recreational marijuana. It comes three weeks after state health officials issued a report that concluded that the benefits of legalizing pot outweigh the risks.

"Because of my concerns, I would say I'm against it right now, but I certainly am going to listen to all the debates and talk about it," said Senator Betty Little, R-Queensbury.

While Senator Little is not on the same page as the health department, Assemblyman Billy Jones thinks legalization is coming anyway.

"I want to get together with all of our partners -- law enforcement, counselors, substance use counselors in the field -- to get together and have a comprehensive package, but I would first say we need to work on our medical marijuana program because I think we have lagged behind in that," Jones said.

Both lawmakers worry about public safety.

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"How does someone know when they've had too much marijuana? And then maybe have a drink, and then drive. Is there a limit? My understanding is marijuana stays in a person's system for a number of days, so even on a test they wouldn't be able to tell whether you just had marijuana or you had marijuana three days before," Little said.

So where does the state go from here? Governor Cuomo's working group is tasked to come up with a program for the Legislature to consider when it returns in January.

Democrats lead efforts to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, marijuana was decriminalized in 2017 with bipartisan support. Medial marijuana has also been available for several years, but now there's a new push to fully legalize the drug, following the lead of Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

"This is the Live Free or Die state -- that is what we put on our license plates. Let's live up to our principles and let adults decide," said New Hampshire Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D- Whitefield. He says he has the signatures of a thousand of Granite Stater residents who think marijuana should be legal. He plans to introduce a bill in 2019.

"We should tax it, and we should tax it as high as we can but stay lower than all of our neighbors so we can create the competitive advantage. That is the New Hampshire way of selling cigarettes and booze," Woodburn said.

New Hampshire's state run liquor stores generate hundreds of millions of dollars in sales annually. But when it comes to pot, past legalization bills failed.

"Why do we want to introduce another substance to abuse into our society? Why do we want to create that environment? Especially when you have children who will now think it is ok," said Rep. Vicki Schwaegler, R-Orford.

A recent poll from the University of New Hampshire found that 56 percent of all residents support legalization. Democrats have made legalization part of their official party platform.

"They don't ask that second question, which is do you want that dispensary next to you, in your town, next to your School?" Schwaegler said.

But Woodburn says the marijuana momentum seen in neighboring states and Canada is something New Hampshire can't ignore. "That's not the Live Free or Die state -- that we stay up at night worrying about who is sinning and who is not sinning," he said.

Governor Chris Sununu has in the past been outspoken against marijuana legalization. His office didn't respond to WCAX requests for an interview on the topic. All politicians in the Granite State are up for reelection every two years.

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