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February 24, 2014

Marijuana issue returning for legislative debate

House could OK decriminalization

CONCORD — Marijuana legalization is moving back into the legislative spotlight on several fronts.

A House panel last week recommended passage, on a 13-3 vote, for House Bill 1622, letting qualified patients grow a small amount of marijuana for medical reasons.

People could have two marijuana plants under the bill, intended to help patients until the state approves four treatment centers authorized under a new law.

Patients would have to report cultivation of marijuana to the state. They would lose the privilege if a treatment center opens within 30 miles of their home.

An advisory council held a hearing Friday on rules regulating those centers which would open as soon as next year.

Meanwhile, the House’s tax policy committee, Ways and Means, is continuing its review of HB 492, which gained initial approval from the House in January, 170-162.

The committee is expected to issue a report, including its findings about potential revenues and regulatory expenses, as soon as next month.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee also is expected to act soon on HB 1625, reducing the criminal penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

Possession of up to an ounce would result in a fine of up to $100, instead of jail time. People now can be sentenced to a year in jail and fined up to $2,000.

Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, expects HB 492 to gain House approval.

“We think it will pass the House,” Simon said. “We have no illusions about it passing the Senate or becoming law this year.”

The House passed a similar bill last year, only to see it die in the Senate.

Gov. Maggie Hassan also remains an obstacle.

“Legalizing marijuana won’t help us address our substance use challenge,” Hassan, a Democrat, said in her State of the State address this month. “Experience and data suggests it will do just the opposite.”

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