CONCORD, N.H. (Apr. 28, 2017) – Last week, the New Hampshire Senate gave final approval to a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program. If signed by the governor, this measure would further thwart the federal prohibition on cannabis in practice.
Rep. Eric Schleien (R-Hillsborough) sponsored House Bill 157 (HB157). The legislation would expand the state’s medical marijuana program by making chronic pain a qualifying condition for patients to receive medical marijuana.
The New Hampshire legislature passed a law legalizing medical marijuana in 2013. The Department of Health and Human Services began pre-registering patients for medical marijuana ID cards in the fall of 2015, and the first dispensary opened last April. Allowing patients suffering from additional conditions to access medical marijuana would further expand the medicinal cannabis program in New Hampshire.
In addition to this legislation, there are several other bills that are active in the House to expand the medical marijuana program to varying degrees in the Live Free or Die State. Rep. Schleien also introduced House Bill 158 (HB158), House Bill 159 (HB159) and House Bill 160 (HB160) while Rep. Robert Renny Cushing (D-Rockingham) introduced House Bill 197 (HB197) and Rep. Brian Stone (R-Rockingham) introduced House Bill 222 (HB222) to create more robust patient access to medical marijuana. Senate Bill 159 (SB159) was introduced by Sen. Dan Feltes (D-Concord) and Sen. John Reagan (R-Deerfield) to do the same.
Rep. Robert Cushing (D-Hampton) introduced House Bill 640 (HB640) to decriminalize marijuana possession in the state, which has already passed the House. Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, all of these measures remain perfectly lawful, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
New Hampshire’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful 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 state law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward stopping in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, New Hampshire essentially sweeps away part of 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.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states last year. Having already legalized medical marijuana to a certain extent, HB157 would relax restrictions on cannabis even further.
With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.
“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.
The expansion of the state’s medical marijuana law also demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. Once the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. SB157 represents another step forward for patients seeking alternative treatments and a further erosion of deplorable federal marijuana prohibition.
Call Gov. Sununu will have five days from the date HB157 is transmitted to his office to sign or veto the bill. If you live in New Hampshire, contact the governor’s office at (603) 271-2121 and urge him to sign HB157 into law.