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November 4, 2013

N.H. House planel opposes recreational marijuana use

A New Hampshire House panel has put up a stop sign on recreational use of marijuana just months after the Legislature decriminalized the drug for medical reasons.

On an 11-7 vote, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee recommended killing House Bill 492.

Chairman Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, said she was unwilling to support the bill at this point, preferring to see how other states fare in allowing recreational use of marijuana.

“Let’s see what Washington state and Colorado do,” Pantelakos said.

But she said she also had doubts about the bill for other reasons.

“This doesn’t send a very good message to young people,” she said.

Pantelakos isn’t alone in opposing decriminalizing marijuana for recreational purposes.

A spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she would veto such a bill if the Legislature sent her one.

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, also said he opposed the bill.

The House will take up the committee’s recommendation in January, but advocates have acknowledged decriminalization was unlikely to happen in the coming session.

They have said they expect that could take several years to accomplish.

“I am pleased the House committee considered this and the vote was as close as it was,” said Kirk McNeil of Derry, executive director for the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. “I’m not surprised this hasn’t come around to legislative fruition yet. But it pleases me people are starting to realize the cost of the drug war is absolutely ridiculous.”

Matt Simon, state director for another advocacy group, the Marijuana Policy Project, said while public opinion has shifted in favor of legalization, lawmakers aren’t there yet.

“Legislators are not quite ready to pull the trigger,” he said.

Simon still holds out hope for the bill because he said “anything is possible” on the House floor, but he expects pro-marijuana lawmakers to bring in new legislation aimed at reducing penalties.

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