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New Hampshire Senate hears plenty from opponents of pot bill

April 23, 2019

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Opponents of a bill legalizing recreational marijuana in New Hampshire came out in force to a Senate committee hearing Tuesday, arguing it would result in more impaired drivers and lead users to try harder drugs in a state already struggling with an opioid crisis.

The hearing follows this month’s House vote to pass a bill that would legalize marijuana possession up to 1 ounce (28 grams). Adults would be allowed to grow up to six plants, and a commission would be set up to license and regulate an industry supporters said could produce $33 million per year. But even if the bill passes the Senate by a wide margin, overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers, and absent a major shift in momentum, the support isn’t there in the House.

Medical experts, several legislators, a police chief and one high school student were among those advocating against the bill Tuesday. They warned that legalization has been problematic in places like Colorado and Washington and that New Hampshire would likely see many of the same problems — including more fatal car accidents, emergency room visits and more adults smoking pot that is much more potent than when they were teenagers.

“The information from the state’s that have legalized marijuana shows that violent crime has increased, homeless increased substantially and the black market has not gone away,” said Bedford Police Chief John Bryfonski, who was representing the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association. “The legalization of marijuana is driving your therapeutic marijuana programs out of business ... Marijuana legalization is not inevitable. We go our own way in the state of New Hampshire ... We don’t do things just because our neighbors or our friends do them.”

Quincy Roy, a sophomore at Manchester Memorial High School, told lawmakers she worried legalization would normalize the use of marijuana and expose children to the drug that could later have an impact on their “growing brains and cognitive abilities.”

“My question for our legislators is why are we allowing another substance to be legalized, a substance that will be advertised to young susceptible individuals, a substance that will be much more easily passed down from legally-aged individuals to minors,” she said. “Anxiety and stress are becoming a new epidemic among my peers. Why have one more drug they can self-medicate with?”

Supporters pushed back, arguing many fears were unfounded and that it was time to reap the economic benefits from marijuana sales that neighbors like Massachusetts are seeing. The ACLU also argued that blacks were far more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges than whites and that legalization would help address this injustice.

Ten states have legalized recreational marijuana — including the three bordering New Hampshire — while New York, New Jersey and others are considering it this year. Last year, California became the largest legal U.S. marketplace, Massachusetts opened the first recreational shops on the East Coast, Canada legalized it in most provinces, and Mexico’s Supreme Court recognized the rights of individuals to use marijuana, moving the country closer to broad legalization.

“The majority of Granite staters in all demographic groups support legalization,” Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told lawmakers. “We’re obviously not a state where this could be put on the ballot and have people vote on it. If they could, we know this would pass.”

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