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January 16, 2014

N.H. House gives initial OK to legalizing marijuana

Gov. Hassan has vowed she will veto legislation

CONCORD — The New Hampshire House, despite a threatened veto by Gov. Maggie Hassan, yesterday gave preliminary approval to legalizing marijuana.

The 170-162 vote followed more than two hours of debate, an earlier vote to kill the bill and considerable parliamentary maneuvering.

House Bill 492 now heads to the Ways and Means Committee, which will review potential tax issues arising from regulating and permitting the sale of marijuana in the state.

But advocates have publicly acknowledged it is unlikely to become law this year.

Besides Hassan, Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, has said he is opposed.

But sponsors are convinced their time is now, with polls showing three-fifths of Granite Staters favoring legalization.

“To everything there is a season. This is the season,” Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, told the House.

The House initially followed the recommendation of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and rejected the bill, 170-168, but in a series of votes reconsidered and then passed it.

The bill would allow possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and older, but also let the state regulate the sale of the drug. Vaillancourt estimates it could bring the state $25 million to $30 million a year, but said Ways and Means will better evaluate revenue prospects.

Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, argued for legalization both because of the opportunity for tax revenue and the cost of enforcement and incarceration of offenders.

“It gets expensive to do these things,” Sapareto said.

Rep. Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, who represents Pelham, said the House was moving forward without considering the impact on driving safety.

“I’d suggest to you that is not responsible,” Jasper said.

But some lawmakers were dismissive of what they see as a costly, lengthy, failing war on drugs.

“Is now the time to take marijuana out of the hands of criminal gangs and put it in the hands of the police?” asked Rep. Romeo Danais, R-Nottingham.

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