New Hampshire’s chance to finally go green is with HB 1598

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O P I N I O N

THE SOAPBOX

Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.


The “Live Free or Die” state is still dragging its feet on legalizing recreational cannabis. However, the 2022 legislative session offers something seldom seen, a legalization bill with the potential to pass. HB1598, legalizing the possession and use of cannabis, is a beacon of hope for many Granite Staters.

Smoking pot traditionally had a negative connotation attached. Growing up in the time of D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), I often heard things like; “Marijuana is a gateway drug” or, “weed is going to kill you.” However scholarly research has come out proving just the opposite. Drawing from “Marijuana: Examining the Facts” by UNH Professors Karen T. Van Gundy and Michael S. Staunton:

Most people who use “harder” drugs (e.g., cocaine, heroin) used marijuana before using those other drugs; however, the vast majority of marijuana users do not go on to misuse “harder” drugs.

Marijuana use is on the rise, but rates are not as high as they were in 1979.

Nationwide, marijuana use rates have increased among adults (ages 18 to 49); conversely, marijuana use rates have decreased for youth (ages 12 to 17).

The adverse health outcomes related to heavy marijuana use are not as severe as those associated with heavy alcohol use or heavy tobacco use.

The physical health risks associated with using marijuana are less severe than those associated with the non-medical use of other illicit substances.

The research shows that marijuana is not a gateway drug and does not have harsher health risks in comparison to heavy alcohol, heavy tobacco, or other illicit substances. These harmful misconceptions are a big part of why so many are hesitant to support legalization. HB1598 is a Moderate Partisan Bill (Republican 7-2), sponsored by Daryl Abbas (R) of Salem, that has recently been able to move through the legislature and into headlines.

Some key points of HB 1598:

  • Adults 21 and older could possess up to four ounces and 10 grams of concentrate.
  • Adults could share legal amounts of marijuana with other adults, provided it is not linked to another transaction.
  • Home cultivation would remain illegal and punishable by possible jail time.
  • Smoking or vaping marijuana in public would be punishable by a fine of up to $500.
  • Penalties for minors who possess marijuana would remain unchanged.
  • Adult-use cannabis stores would be run by the Liquor Commission, which anticipates it would open 10 standalone stores.
  • Localities could enact ordinances governing the time, place, and manner of cannabis business operations, limit their number, or ban cannabis businesses altogether.
  • Each year, $25 million of the proceeds would be appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for substance abuse treatment and prevention, related mental health treatment, and scientifically accurate public education about the risks of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and other substances.
  • After that, 90% of the remainder would be used to offset the education tax levied via property taxes; another 5% would go to public safety, including training drug recognition experts; and 5% would be used for children’s behavioral health.
  • The bill passed the full House in February in an initial vote of 235-119 before being sent back to committee where Rep. Timothy Lang (R) proposed an amendment, that prevents adult-use consumers from buying “infused” cannabis products (edibles), which was adopted unanimously. Some advocates have found the amendment unnecessarily restrictive.
  • On March 31, 2022, HB 1598 passed the House in a 169 (yay) – 156 (nay) vote, ought to pass (amended).

On March 10, 2022, the historically anti-legalization, Governor Sununu publicly addressed HB 1598. Sununu, for the first time publicly softened his stance stating, “I think it’s (legalization) going to ultimately happen in New Hampshire, it could be inevitable.” Importantly, unlike in the past, he has not vowed to veto the bill if it were to reach his desk, but he would instead be “looking at it closely.” The governor went on to acknowledge a change in public support for legalization since he was first elected. He even went as far as to say “If you are ever going to do it, do that bill [HB 1598], Is now the right time? I am not sure yet.” The shift in support from the governor is surprising but exciting for the 74 percent of residents polled by the University of New Hampshire, who support the general legalization of marijuana. Let’s get legalizing New Hampshire!


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