CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s House reversed itself Wednesday and killed a bill that would have legalized up to 1 ounce of marijuana for recreational use for anyone age 21 and older.
The House voted 192-140 against the bill that also would have legalized growing up to six plants, allowed up to 10 cultivation facilities to be established and applied a $60 per ounce tax at the wholesale level.
The House had voted 170-162 in January to give preliminary approval to the bill and asked the chamber’s tax writing committee to review it. The committee recommended killing the bill because it legalized commercial sales of the drug without proper controls.
“I don’t think New Hampshire wants to be known as the East Coast pot state,” said Rep. Mary Cooney, a committee member who said regulating the industry would be a nightmare.
Bill supporters argued consumers already are using marijuana without the protections the bill would provide.
“This is the only way to break the back of the black market,” said bill sponsor Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester.
Rep. Joel Winters, D-Manchester, argued regulating marijuana would be the best way to keep the drug away from young children.
“Drug dealers don’t check IDs,” he said.
Opponents argued the House should move more cautiously, pointing to a new medical marijuana law passed last year that is still in the process of being implemented and to a bill the House passed two weeks ago to decriminalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana.
Opponents said legalizing the drug would mean allowing its cultivation, distribution and sale which would result in the development of a commercial marijuana enterprise in the state. Rep. David Hess said no New Hampshire banks will take the risk of handling money from a drug that is illegal under federal law.
“We don’t need a cash cow industry in the state for another reason: it breeds tax evasion,” said Hess, R-Hooksett.
Supporters proposed putting different agencies in charge of licensing, cultivation, testing and retail stores, but opponents said their proposed regulations were weak and without an umbrella agency to coordinate their actions.
The bill was modeled after one approved by Colorado voters last year and is similar to one Washington voters passed. Currently, possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
The maximum fine would be $100 under the decriminalization bill the House passed. That bill would also make cultivation of up to six marijuana plants a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
The legalization bill would have eliminated those penalties.
The decriminalization bill isn’t likely to survive. The Senate rejected a bill to decriminalize possession of up to one-quarter ounce of the drug last year and Gov. Maggie Hassan has promised to veto it if it reaches her desk.
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