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September 23, 2013

N.H. takes it slow on recreational pot smoking

Marijuana debate

CONCORD — Just months after the Legislature approved legalizing marijuana for medical reasons, a New Hampshire House committee is signaling it could support recreational use of the drug.

But a spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan said she would veto such a bill, and the Senate president is among lawmakers who are skeptical the full Legislature is ready to decriminalize marijuana.

Even an advocate for legalization from Derry, while seeing the favorable straw vote in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee as encouraging, expects this is just the start of years-long political debate.

“I think this is one of those debates that will start this year and carry on for some time,” said Kirk McNeil, executive director for the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy.

“That’s the way things go in New Hampshire,” he said. “We’re going to be talking about it for a little while.”

Last Thursday the House committee split 8-5 in favor of passage of House Bill 492 through the non-binding straw vote.

The bill would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in New Hampshire in a similar manner to Colorado. People 21 and older could have up to an ounce.

State Rep. Gene Charron, R-Chester, the committee’s clerk, said the panel is expected to issue a formal recommendation on the bill later this fall, in time for the 2014 legislative session.

Charron was among the dissenters.

Charron said he has concerns about how the state would regulate and control recreational use of marijuana.

He said he is also reluctant to change New Hampshire law without first seeing how legalization works in other states.

“I want to see what’s going on in Colorado,” Charron said.

The bill’s prime sponsor, state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, cautioned proponents about the prospects for passage.

“Don’t get your hopes up, marijuana supporters,” Vaillancourt said on his blog.

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