CONCORD, N.H. (Jan. 11, 2015) – Three bills introduced in the New Hampshire legislature would legalize marijuana for recreational use. Passage of any would not only legalize marijuana in the Live Free or Die State, but would also take a big step toward thwarting federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the state.
The three proposed bills prefiled for the 2016 legislative session would legalize marijuana to varying degrees.
Rep. Michael Brewster (R-Barnstead) sponsors the strongest of the three bills. House Bill 1675 (HB1675) would legalize and tax marijuana similar to alcohol. The proposed law legalizes the personal use of up to 2.2 pounds of marijuana by persons 18 years of age or older, authorizes and creates a structure for the licensing of marijuana wholesale, retail, cultivation, and testing facilities in the state, and sets up a state taxing scheme for the plant.
Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belknap) and Rep. Robert Hull (R-Grafton) prefiled a bill that legalizes marijuana, but does not go as far as Brewster’s legislation. House Bill 1610 (HB1610) would allow individuals 21 years and older to legally do the following:
"[Possess] up to 2 ounces of marijuana in a person’s primary residence or possession of marijuana accessories…
[Possess or cultivate] no more than 6 marijuana plants, with 3 or fewer being mature, flowering plants, on the premises where the plants were grown…
[Transfer] up to one ounce of marijuana to a person who is 21 years of age or older without remuneration."
Rep. Geoffry Hirsch (D-Bedford), along with four other sponsors, prefiled House Bill 1694 (HB1694). This legislation features provisions similar to HB1610, but only allows possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by people over 21. But unlike HB1610, it does creates a structure for the sale of marijuana, including the licensing of wholesale and retail outlets. As a bonus, HB1694 would legalize the farming of industrial hemp within the state. The licensing and taxing scheme under HB1694 appears more complex than HB1675.
If any of these bills pass, New Hampshire would be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature rather than the ballot initiative process.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Passage either HB1675, HB1694 or HB1610 would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession, cultivation or use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any legitimate authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
While the New Hampshire bill would not alter federal law, it would take a step toward ending in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By erasing the state laws, the Vermont legislature would essentially sweep away the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
If the state legislature passes HB1675, 1694 or HB1610, New Hampshire would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically stopping the ban.
All three bills will be formally introduced during the 2016 legislative session. Each must pass in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee before receiving a full vote.