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New Hampshire: Inside the Plan to Legalize Pot in 2020

PHOTO Brian Shamblen


New Hampshire: Inside the Plan to Legalize Pot in 2020

A new legislative session kicks off in New Hampshire this week, and with it a new effort to legalize marijuana in the Granite State.

New Hampshire has long been a battleground to for marijuana reform.

Over the past 12 years, New Hampshire activists have pushed the state to legalize medical marijuana and to decriminalize personal possession. In both cases, New Hampshire was the last state in New England to pass such laws. And now, as New Hampshire advocates have worked to push the issue of full cannabis legalization, they’ve seen major reforms in every bordering state: MaineMassachusetts and Vermont. You could even include the 58 miles of the U.S. border they share with Canada and say they’re surrounded on all sides by legal pot.

One of the people that has been leading the charge in New Hampshire since 2007 is Matt Simon, who currently serves as the New England Political Director for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

“We can’t have New Hampshire being an island of prohibition in a sea of freedom,” Simon told Cannabis Now. “Every year it gets easier in New Hampshire. A big part of that is the progress nationally — both in the discourse nationally and the media — but certainly what the states around us are doing.”

Simon said Colorado and Washington’s pioneering cannabis legalization efforts gave the movement more credibility, since it was happening somewhere.

“Some legislatures would go on trips west and come back with stories, but having 30-something stores open in Massachusetts is a different animal altogether,” Simon said. “Obviously, prohibition is not going to work well if you have six stores within 15 miles of the New Hampshire border.”

The relatively short distances between states in New England can encourage cannabis consumers to go on road trips for better deals, especially considering there is a narrow section on the eastern side of the state where an enterprising citizen could drive from Massachusetts through New Hampshire to Maine in about 20 minutes on I-95.

We asked Simon about the scrutiny all the people from Massachusetts going to Maine to buy cheaper pot could face, given that anything over three-quarters of an ounce is a misdemeanor, not a civil citation. Does this make getting legalization done in New Hampshire more imperative since nobody is driving all the way to Maine to pick up an eighth?

Simon says Maine’s adult-use stores will open soon, but patients from both New Hampshire and Massachusetts are certainly taking advantage of Maine’s medical program. He thinks those road trips will sort themselves out in time as prices come down.

“If New Hampshire is hell-bent on not allowing any kind of sales to take place that’s a bummer,” Simon said. “The least we can do is stop punishing people if they want to grow for themselves or take advantage of the legal market right across the border in Massachusetts. Both of those options are better than buying from the illicit market. That’s the case we’ll be making this year. We’ll see how it goes.”

Last year’s effort to fully legalize and regulate cannabis sales failed in the New Hampshire State Senate after being referred to the “interim study” purgatory where legislation goes to die.

“We’ve had a lot of bills go to interim study over the years. They don’t tend to be studied a lot, but that’s fine,” Simon said.

Advocates accepted the fate of that 2019 bill many months ago and have been working on a new plan. They’re looking at what worked in Vermont, given they think the State Senate would be interested in a new cannabis legalization bill that won’t have the sales mechanism piece, which Simon said was a driving force for most of the negativity that came their way last year.

Simon said the Vermont plan was very successful, as Vermont became the first state to legalize through the legislature and not the ballot box in January 2018. The Vermont state legislature was ready for full adult-use sales, but in the end, the governor signed something scaled back to allow homegrown and personal possession.

The plan in New Hampshire essentially turns the whole cannabis legalization argument completely into a criminal justice and civil liberties issue, rather than one of taxes and revenue.

“We’re not going to talk about commercialization. We’re not going to talk about regulation. That’s for another bill, another day,” Simon said. Simon believes New Hampshire’s Governor Chris Sununu is a similar situation to what they had in Vermont. “He says he’s dead set against legalization, but most of his stated concerns deal with the market and not ‘We should be punishing people.’”

If this year’s effort doesn’t bear fruit by June, the state’s cannabis activists will roll right into an election season where all 424 state representatives and the governor are up for reelection. Simon believes that could shake things up significantly, as every election cycle, they seem to lose a few of the people blocking cannabis reform in Concord.

“I think the voters are already there,” Simon said, “It’s easy to imagine 2021 being a lot more favorable.”

TELL US, how far would you drive for cheaper cannabis?

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