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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Another push to legalize marijuana started in NH

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The bills have bipartisan support. Their sponsors include Left Democrats and Liberal Republicans. One of them was presented by a republican president to an executive committee. Another by the leader of the House Democrats himself.

But with New Hampshire lawmakers rolling out the latest round of marijuana legalization bills for next year’s cycle, the results all appear to be predetermined. Bills will move from a House committee to the House floor, where they are likely to command a bipartisan majority. They will cross into the Senate, and they will likely be voted on. If they move to Governor Chris Sununu’s office, they will likely face a veto.

It’s been a familiar progression in Concord for years, a development that has baffled marijuana proponents in New Hampshire’s neighboring states. Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont have legalized the substance in recent years.

said David Boyer, a Maine adviser who helped lead the referendum campaign to legalize his state in 2016.

Next year, supporters of Granite State legalization believe they may finally be able to break the cycle, with a new bill and a new approach. Opponents, including Sununu, have pointed to the state’s opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic and urged restraint.

But as the two sides prepare for the next battle, cannabis proponents in Maine and Vermont say the efforts in these two states provide unique roadmaps forward.

The Long Game in Maine

The process of legalizing marijuana in Maine has begun at the local level. The efforts began in Portland first, when 67 percent of the city voted for legalization in 2013. South Portland, a separate city, voted in favor of legalization the following year.

Then advocates took the campaign to the country at large.

In Maine, residents can enact legislation through a ballot initiative — provided they collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the votes cast for the governor. In 2016, during the rule of legislation opponent Paul LePage, a statewide referendum seemed a more attractive path.

“We were able to make the case … let the voters decide, let the voters decide,” Boyer said.

For activists, Boyer said, a direct referendum could have benefits for the legislative process. It may be easier to get people to support a campaign when the question is at the state level.

But using the ballot initiative has its own challenges. Among them: getting preachers to agree on what language should say. In Maine, feuding advocacy groups spent months before the referendum deciding how wide or narrow the language could be and trying to sign signatures for separate efforts — a process Boyer called a “pot primer.”

In the end, a slight advantage in the signature group allowed one group to move forward and gather supporters for one proposed initiative.

Despite public support, Maine legislators viewed cannabis with some skepticism. Boyer attributed this to the initial process, and lawmakers tied their position to their party’s base. Boyer said the referendum process helped derail some legislators’ entrenched opposition.

“I think that’s one of the beautiful things about the initiative process: It kind of forced politicians to give up their position just by weighing their constituents. Like, ‘Oh, my city voted two-thirds for it; How can I vote against it? “

Boyer said the election comments helped marijuana advocates win future legislative battles over how to continue to shape the state’s cannabis laws.

New Hampshire does not have a referendum process — although one resolution next year by House Democratic Leader Renee Cushing will bring the matter up to voters as part of a constitutional amendment.

But Boyer said that even without the ability to put the matter on the ballot, Granite advocates could learn from Maine’s statewide campaign. Connecting lawmakers with voters who can tell stories about the benefits of legalization could also make a difference, he said.

“Cannabis would be legal in New Hampshire – and it would probably have been legal four or five years ago when Maine did it – if there was a ballot initiative process,” he said.

Flexibility in Vermont

Vermont has followed a more gradual path. It was one of the first states to legalize a medical marijuana program in 2004. Governor Peter Shumlin passed a decriminalization bill in 2013. By 2015, many state residents seemed ready to fully legalize.

But unlike in Maine, Vermont couldn’t pass it on directly to voters. And the legislature wasn’t ready to pass the legislation in 2015. In 2016, the Senate passed a bill, only to be rejected by the House of Representatives.

In the face of those political barriers, cannabis advocates have slowly worked. Unlike in New Hampshire, Vermont bills do not automatically leave the House and Senate policy committees to vote in the chamber; They must get a vote to move forward. This meant that advocates had to work with committee members – often for months – to ensure that the bills were submitted.

Republican Governor Phil Scott, who was first elected in 2016, also introduced opposition — though he was not absolutely. “I never say,” he He said during his first campaign for the position of governor. “I am saying… the timing is not right. It is not now.”

Scott’s position was markedly different from that of Sununu in 2018, when he was Governor of New Hampshire He said he would veto it “absolutely.” Legalization of cannabis legalization “regardless of the form of language”. And it gave Vermont supporters some flexibility to work with them on the road.

This flexibility will quickly prove beneficial. In 2017, months after Scott’s first term, the Vermont legislature sent the governor a cannabis legalization bill. He objected, but after a wave of callers protested Scott’s decision, his opposition did not last long. Within weeks of his veto, Scott called a meeting with supporters of marijuana legalization to bring out a bill the governor could allow, recalls Dave Silberman, a leading advocate of marijuana legalization in the state.

After hammering out the details, Scott allowed a slightly modified version of the bill to become law in 2018 without his signature.

Exactly how Vermont billed the legalization while the recession in New Hampshire was complicated. Silberman says the answer lies in part with the political environments of the two countries.

“Vermont has the different advantage that New Hampshire is more conservative,” he said. “Although there’s a Republican governor, you know, we’re a center-left state.”

But Silberman said Vermont advocates were also keen to beat themselves up. Instead of pursuing a blanket bill that would land all items on marijuana supporters’ wish list, advocates have sought a smaller scale, legalizing possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and up to two plants in the home.

Silberman said the increased pace helped put legalization advocates in good stead after Scott’s veto, allowing them to amend the law at the governor’s liking without drastic revisions.

“I think a lot of leftists scoff at gradualism, but I think it works,” Silberman said.

And the state has followed this path: Two years after the state passed its legalization bill, Scott allowed a second bill for retail marijuana sales to pass by October 2022 without his signature.

New Hampshire Trail

Legalization advocates in New Hampshire do not have the same political or environmental tools as Maine and Vermont. But next year, they’re trying a new approach.

A bill proposed by Representative Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican and chair of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, would allow individuals over the age of 21 to legally possess cannabis, pass it on to others and consume it privately — but not to grow the plants at home.

The bill would allow New Hampshire to establish cannabis retail stores similar to liquor stores; Profits from these stores will go both to drug abuse prevention programs and toward lowering the statewide education property tax.

Abbas was not available late last week for comment. But Representative Casey Conley, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the bill was meant to win skeptics to neutrality.

“What you’re trying to do is just try to give a real carrot approach instead of a stick,” Conley said. “That’s the benefit. We can raise a whole bunch of money and maybe lower property taxes.”

Conley said the call for marijuana legalization in New Hampshire has long been a game of eliciting legislators who oppose it in principle and are open to it but have commented on the details. “You address a lot of concerns that may have been raised by people who were willing to support the legalization program, but who didn’t like the details of the earlier legislation,” he said.

Conley said the biggest lasting obstacle in New Hampshire has been the state Senate, which has consistently voted on legalization bills controlled by Democrats and Republicans. The latest bill is designed to attempt to speak to some of that frequency. However, Conley admits that the latest version is not his preferred approach or that of other Democrats.

“The main question for legalization advocates is: Do we want to legalize cannabis this year even if the bill isn’t perfect, or what we want perfectly, or do we oppose this and hope for something better next year?” He said. “My feeling is that we have no idea what the House or Senate will look like next year. If we had a viable option to legalize cannabis and end ban in New Hampshire, I would support it.”

For Senator Bob Giuda, a Warren Republican who helped sponsor the chamber’s anti-legislative vote in 2019, advocates of legalization should feel hopeless.

“There’s a myth out there, hey, everyone wants this,” Jodha said. “It doesn’t do our kids any good and in the midst of a mental health crisis and COVID, which, by the way, is causing some respiratory issues.”

Other stakeholders have a more accurate view. Policy group New Futures, a nonprofit that advocates for health care in the state, has opposed marijuana legalization efforts in the past. Kate Fry, vice president of advocacy for the organization, said the group is not entirely against all efforts.

Instead, New Futures is assessing whether the bills meet four goals, Frey said. The bill should protect children by banning marketing and limiting potency. It should promote social justice by striking out previous convictions, protect public health by including health warnings and involve public health authorities. Any profits should be directed toward drug abuse prevention programs.

“A lot of our principles actually came from states like California, for example…because what they found was none of those public health principles that were at the fore when the law was created in California, so now they have to go back and try to fix things,” he said. Fry. “And that’s harder once the horse is out of the barn.”

So far, Fry said, no bill presented in the legislature has achieved these goals. Fry and New Futures did not see the latest draft of the legislation until Friday.

Abbas’s bill will be presented to the full parliament and assigned to a committee in early January. But Gyoda says this year will be no different than any other.

“We have a republican legislature,” he said. “And certainly a Republican Senate, no matter what the House does. I think we can get elected to the Senate. I don’t see support for that.”

New Hampshire Bulletin It is part of State Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow the New Hampshire Bulletin at Facebook social networking site And Twitter.



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