More than a year after Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana possession, New Hampshire lawmakers are thinking about doing the same — or even taxing and regulating cannabis.
The ailing economy and budgetary crisis are prompting legislators to take a second or, at least, a longer look at House Bill 1652.
This proposal would allow adults to possess 1 ounce or less, provide for state regulation, and tax marijuana's wholesale and retail sale.
Prime sponsor Rep. Calvin Pratt, R-Goffstown, said he doesn't expect it to become law this year, but if tough economic challenges linger, the bill may be approved in years to come.
For the time being, Pratt said he thinks the decriminalization bill, HB1653, which would allow possession of one-quarter ounce or less, stands a better chance than HB 1652 of gaining House approval.
"All the evidence is that marijuana is a mainstream substance," he said, "and it is currently being regulated by an illicit market and tens of millions of dollars are being shipped out of New Hampshire."
Even a keenly pro law-enforcement lawmaker, Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, is intrigued by the potential revenue and savings that could be generated by taxing and regulating marijuana.
"It's kind of a strange situation because there is money there and we just lost $110 million this morning," said Welch, of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Welch was talking about the latest budgetary bad news, the loss of Joint Underwriting Account funds after a New Hampshire Supreme Court decision.
Committee recommends tax-and-regulate study
A major supporter of reforming marijuana laws, Matt Simon, 33, said he was pleasantly surprised last week to see the House Criminal Justice Committee vote to recommend the tax-and-regulate marijuana bill go to an interim study.
If the House votes for the study, the committee would study the bill and report back to the House in November.