Senate kills Cannabis legalization efforts
CONCORD - A cannabis legalization bill sponsored by both the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House died in the New Hampshire Senate on Thursday in what was a nearly party-line vote.
The bill, HB 639, would have established a legalized non-medical cannabis market in New Hampshire. It received committee amendments in the House before it passed that chamber 272-109 on April 6.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended that the bill was inexpedient to legislate and that recommendation was adopted 14-10 before the full Senate, with only Keith Murphy (R-Manchester) joining with Democrats in opposition and only Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester) joining Republicans in supporting the motion to kill the bill.
D’Allesandro said that he had never been so caring about this issue as he had in any during his decades in the Senate, expressing concern for marijuana use among children that several Republican senators shared during Thursday’s discussion on the bill.
Rebecca Whitley (D-Hopkinton), one of the bill’s sponsors, repeatedly spoke against assertions that the bill would be harmful to children given that it only legalizes cannabis use for adults and smoking marijuana in public would be banned in places where cigarette smoking is already banned and municipalities could prohibit cannabis usage.
She added that the bill would also help New Hampshire’s minorities who are disproportionately targeted by the illegality of cannabis in the state and also echoed statements from other Democrats regarding increased safety of cannabis that is already being used and would recapture revenue being lost to neighboring states.
“Like alcohol prohibition a century ago, cannabis prohibition has been an abject failure,” said Whitley.
She also repeatedly stated data that legalization of cannabis in other states has decreased marijuana usage in children, however several Republicans focused on data showing health risks for children who use marijuana.
Carrie Gendreau (R-Littleton) also challenged those comments by Democrats regarding lost tax revenue and lost small business growth to neighboring states that have already legalized cannabis dispensaries, countering with stories of individuals who later used other drugs and concerns about the potency of marijuana on the market, difficulty for law enforcement testing drivers intoxicated by cannabis and the fact that it is still illegal at the federal level.
“If we’re able to get 75,000 (dollars) or 75 million, is that really worth a life? I don’t think we can put a value on a life,” said Gendreau.
Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) expressed concern over the fact that after almost an hour of debate, both sides claimed that polling data supported their point of view. She said that while in the past she was not an ardent supporter of cannabis legalization efforts and marijuana has never been “her thing,” she stated that what tipped her to not being an opponent now was concerns about unregulated marijuana usage now, with reports of black market marijuana being laced with fentanyl and other deadly drugs that are causing deaths across the state.
Soucy also noted the benefits seen from legalization of medical cannabis in New Hampshire, as well as revenue loss due to legalization in neighboring states and the fact that Granite Staters are already using cannabis in significant amounts regardless of whether it is regulated or not.
She noted that this argument has been going on for a long time and if the bill was not passed today that it will continue to be an issue, but eventually it will have to be addressed.
“I dare say we are not recognizing the reality of what’s already happening in our state,” she said.
After the vote, Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) released the following statement.
“Our state is facing an unprecedented drug crisis, with families across New Hampshire
bearing the heartbreaking consequences. The overdose epidemic has left our communities devastated, claiming the lives of
countless individuals who have fallen victim to the dangerous allure of illicit substances.
Tragically, we have even witnessed cases where unsuspecting individuals have lost their lives after consuming cannabis laced with fentanyl, a highly potent and deadly synthetic opioid.
We’ve also received lengthy testimony and reports expressing the dangers posed to children exposed to marijuana. Studies have shown that marijuana use during adolescence can have detrimental effects on brain development. According to a study
published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), frequent marijuana use during adolescence has resulted in an average decline of 8 IQ points by mid-adulthood.
In the face of such a dire situation, it is essential that we remain steadfast in our commitment to combating this crisis and protecting our citizens from further harm. Recreationalizing marijuana at this critical juncture would send a confusing message,
potentially exacerbating the already perilous drug landscape and placing more lives at risk. Now is not the appropriate time to divert our attention away from addressing the pressing challenges posed by the drug crisis.
I acknowledge the concerns and aspirations of those who advocate for the recreational use of marijuana, but right now our focus should be on effective prevention, treatment, and recovery initiatives toward the drug crisis we’re currently facing.”
Whitley released the following statement.
“HB 639-FN-A is good public policy for New Hampshire because it reflects the lessons learned from the twenty-one other states that have legalized marijuana, and it also reflects New Hampshire’s priorities. Today’s failure to pass HB 639 means New Hampshire will continue to miss out on significant revenues, as our residents purchase their cannabis products in neighboring states, and will result in the continuation of significant harms caused by marijuana prohibition. Granite Staters have already waited long enough for cannabis legalization in our state, and the Senate majority intends to make our citizens wait even longer.”
Shannon Chandley (D-Amherst) released the following statement.
“It is regrettable that the will of the people was not upheld at the State House today when the majority of the Senate voted against the legalization of cannabis. HB 639-FN-A was a responsible, bipartisan piece of legislation that would have created a legal and well regulated adult use cannabis market here in the state. Although HB 639 did not pass the legislature today, I am sure that this debate will continue until a suitable resolution is reached. Our current policy is not working for our citizens and we, as legislators, must seek a solution reforming the law to legalize and regulate cannabis.”
Frank Knaack, policy director at the ACLU of New Hampshire, released the following statement.
“Today, the New Hampshire Senate continued their harmful, out-of-touch practice of killing bipartisan, broadly supported legislation to legalize marijuana. Pushing legalization off yet another year makes clear that these lawmakers are willing to ignore the will of their own constituents and are okay with continuing to needlessly ensnare over a thousand people — disproportionately Black people — in New Hampshire’s criminal justice system every year. We call on lawmakers in both chambers to use the rest of the legislative session to find a way to make 2023 the year the Granite State finally legalizes marijuana–because our war on marijuana undermines community safety, wastes taxpayer dollars, and ruins lives.”