After a heated and lengthy debate on the floor of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the lower chamber of New Hampshire’s legislature today voted 170 to 162 in favor of House Bill 492, which seeks to legalize under state law the personal use and home cultivation of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older and establish regulations for the retail production and sale of cannabis.
The historic vote makes the New Hampshire House the first state legislative chamber to ever vote in favor of regulating cannabis.
House Bill 492 had initially received a “Ought Not to Pass” report from the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. However, in New Hampshire legislative rules permit all House measures to receive floor votes by the full House. This afternoon, House lawmakers debated the measure for more than three hours before voting 170 to 168 to accept the committee report. But this was just the beginning.
Members of the House of Representatives voted 173 to 165 to reconsider their actions and hold a revote. On their second vote, a majority 170 members voted to reject the “Ought Not to Pass” report. House lawmakers then voted to adopt amendments to adjust minor details of the bill. More debate ensued, but when the final vote was held 170 voted in favor of approving HB492 as amended and sending it to and 162 voted in opposition.
“This vote is historic,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Today’s vote approving House Bill 492 is the first time a chamber of a state legislature has ever approved of legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana for all adults. Fifty-eight percent of Americans support ending our prohibition on marijuana and the New Hampshire House of Representatives’ actions today signal that politicians are finally beginning to acknowledge the will of their constituents.”
Tax issues pertaining to the bill will now be debated by the House Ways and Means Committee. A second House floor vote is anticipated in the coming months. However, Democrat Governor Maggie Hassan has already stated her opposition to this measure.
NORML will keep you updated on this evolving situation.
Governor Hassan issued the following public statement upon the bill’s passage:
Allowing doctors to provide relief to patients through the use of appropriately regulated and dispensed medical marijuana is the compassionate and right policy for the State of New Hampshire, and this legislation ensures that we approach this policy in the right way with measures to prevent abuse.
By providing strong regulatory oversight and clear dispensing guidelines, this bill addresses many of the concerns that were expressed throughout the legislative process. HB 573 legalizes the use of medical marijuana in a way that makes sense for the State of New Hampshire and gives health providers another option to help New Hampshire’s seriously ill patients.
The new law creates four state-sanctioned marijuana dispensing facilities to produce and distribute cannabis to state-qualified patients who possess a doctor’s recommendation. Patients must have a preexisting relationship of at least three months with their physician prior to receiving a recommendation for cannabis therapy. Patients diagnosed with one of approximately twenty qualifying conditions — including cancer, hepatitis C, muscular dystrophy, Crohn’s disease, or multiple sclerosis — will be permitted to legally possess up to two-ounces of cannabis. Under the law, patients must obtain cannabis only from a state-licensed facility. Qualified patients will not be provided with any legal protections to possess or use cannabis prior to the establishment of such facilities.
It has been estimated that it may take state regulators as much as two years to get the nascent program up and running.
As originally passed by the House, the measure allowed qualified patients the option to grow their own cannabis. It also allowed physicians to recommend cannabis for the treatment of post-traumatic stress. Both provisions were stripped from the bill by the Senate at the request of the Governor.
A similar measure awaits action from the Governor in Illinois.
New Hampshire is the sixth and final New England state — joining Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine — to enact medical marijuana legislation.
The amended bill calls for the creation of four state-sanctioned marijuana dispensing facilities to produce and distribute cannabis to state-qualified patients who possess a physician’s recommendation. Patients diagnosed with one of approximately twenty qualifying conditions — including cancer, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Crohn’s disease, or multiple sclerosis — would be permitted to legally possess up to than two-ounces of cannabis. Under the proposed law, patients must obtain cannabis only from a state-licensed facility. Qualified patients will not be provided with any legal protections to possess or use cannabis prior to the establishment of such facilities.
As originally passed by the House, the measure allowed for qualified patients to have the option to grow their own cannabis. The measure also allowed for physicians to recommend cannabis for the treatment of post-traumatic stress. Both provisions were stripped from the bill by the Senate at the request of newly-elected Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Gov. Hassan is expected to approve the reconciled version of HB 573. A commission is expected to be put in place to oversee the implementation of the law as soon as the bill is passed.
New Hampshire will become the 19th state to allow for the limited, legal use of medical cannabis and the final New England state to do so.
Members of the New Hampshire Senate voted 18 to 6 today in favor of an amended version of House Bill 573, which allows for the physician-authorized use and state-licensed dispensing of cannabis to qualified patients. House lawmakers had previously voted 286 to 64 in March in favor of a broader version of the bill.
As amended by the Senate, HB 573 would establish up to four state-sanctioned marijuana dispensing facilities. (The House version allowed for up to five facilities.) State-qualified patients would be allowed to possess up to two ounces of cannabis, but they would only be legally able to obtain it from a state-licensed dispensary. (The House version of the bill provided provisions for home cultivation.) Under the amended bill, patients lacking a state-issued identification card would not be permitted to raise an affirmative defense, meaning that patients who could benefit immediately from the therapeutic use of cannabis will be forced to wait several months until after the bill’s passage in order to obtain the necessary paperwork to receive any legal protection under the law. The Senate also voted to eliminate post-traumatic stress from the list of authorized conditions for which a physician could legally recommend marijuana therapy.
The measure also stipulates that qualified patients must possess a preexisting relationship with their physician (of at least 90 days) and that they have previously pursued conventional remedies to treat their condition.
Newly-elected Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan had voiced her opposition to several elements of the House version, which spurred the Senate to adopt several changes.
The Senate version of the bill now goes back to the House, whose members will either sign off on or, more likely, reject the Senate’s amendments. The latter action would create the need for a “committee of conference,” at which time a special committee of House representatives and senators will compromise on a final version of the bill. That language will then be forwarded to the governor’s desk.
If you reside in New Hampshire, there is still time to contact the Governor’s office and urge her to rethink her position on these controversial Senate amendments. Tell her that these Senate provisions will hurt, not help, patients in New Hampshire. Implore her that seriously ill patients can not wait years for for dispensaries to become available and that they require a home grow alternative. You can call the Governor’s office or use NORML’s ‘Act’ page here.
Finally, House Bill 573 co-sponsor, Rep. Donald “Ted” Wright, has launched a Change.org petition urging Gov. Hassan to amend her position. Whether or not you reside in New Hampshire, please sign the petition and share it with your friends and colleagues.
For information on how you can support pending marijuana law reform legislation in other states, please visit here.
Legislative Chambers Move Measures To Decriminalize Marijuana In Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New JerseyMarch 22, 2013
Legislative chambers in four states — Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New Jersey — have passed measures to reclassify minor marijuana offenses as non-criminal violations, punishable by a fine only — no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record.
In Hawaii, Senate lawmakers this month unanimously passed Senate Bill 472, which reclassifies marijuana possession offenses from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine) to an infraction. On Thursday, March 14, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a revised version of this proposal (SB 472, HD1). This revised version caps fine-only penalties at no more than $100 for violations by those age 18 or older involving 20 grams or less of cannabis. Senate Bill 472 now before the House Finance Committee, where it has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. If passed by the House Finance Committee, the measure would still need to be voted by the full House and then it would return to the Senate before going to the Governor’s desk. You can read NORML’s testimony in support of this measure here. Hawaii voters who wish to learn more about this effort can visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here or visit the ACLU of Hawaii here.
Maryland lawmakers this week passed Senate Bill 297 by a vote of 30 to 16. The bill now goes before House lawmakers for further consideration. This is the first time in recent memory that a chamber of the Maryland legislature has voted to significantly reduce penalties for the non-medical use of cannabis. Presently, the possession of ten grams of cannabis or less is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, publishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. Senate Bill 297 makes minor marijuana offenses a fine-only, non-criminal infraction, punishable by a maximum fine of $100. Members of the House Judiciary Committee will hear SB 297 on Thursday, March 28, at 1pm. NORML will be testifying at this hearing. Maryland residents are urged to get involved in supporting SB 297 by clicking here.
Yesterday, New Hampshire House members voted 214 to 115 in favor of amended legislation, House Bill 621, that decriminalizes minor marijuana possession offenses. Under present law, the possession of any amount of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor publishable by up to one-year in jail and a $2,000 fine. This proposal seeks to make minor marijuana offenses (up to one-quarter of one ounce) a fine-only, non-criminal infraction. The vote marks the fourth time in five years that House lawmakers have approved decriminalizing cannabis. More than 50 additional House lawmakers approved the measure this year as opposed to last year. Nevertheless, this measure is anticipated to face resistance in the Senate as well as from newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan. If you reside in New Hampshire, you can take action in support of HB 621 here.
Assembly Bill 1465, which reduces penalties for the adult possession of up to 15 grams or less of marijuana to a fine-only, non-criminal violation was approved last year by the New Jersey Assembly and awaits action by the Senate. Separate Senate Legislation, Senate Bill 1977, to decriminalize up to 50 grams of marijuana also remains pending. Under present state law, the possessing of up to 50 grams marijuana is punishable by up to 6 months incarceration, a $1,000 fine, and a criminal record. According to survey data compiled in 2011 by Rutgers University, a majority of New Jersey voters support reforming the state’s criminal marijuana laws. Pollsters found that 6 out of 10 voters favored removing criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenders and replacing them with the imposition of a civil fine. Just over half thought there should be no penalties at all. More information about these measures is available here.
To date, fifteen states have reduced marijuana possession to a fine-only offense. In nine of these states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island (beginning April 1, 2013) — the law defines the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by adults as a civil, non-criminal offense. Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana, while Colorado and Washington recently imposed separate legislation legalizing the private possession of marijuana.
Several additional states, including Missouri and Vermont, are considering similar decriminalization measures. Nearly a dozen states are also considering legislation to legalize the adult consumption of marijuana and regulate its retail production and sale. A summary of state-by-state pending marijuana law reform measures is available from NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.