CONCORD — When a bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana carried the New Hampshire House of Representatives yesterday by the narrow margin of 170 to 162 on a bipartisan vote, the Belknap County delegation split evenly, with seven members in favor, seven against and four absent.
Among the seven voting in favor, there were six Republicans — Richard Burchell of Gilmanton, Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Charles Fink and Michael Sylvia of Belmont and Bob Greemore and Herb Vadney of Meredith — and only one Democrat — Ruth Gulick of New Hampton.
Five Republicans — Jane Cormier and Stephen Holmes of Alton, Don Flanders and Frank Tilton of Laconia and Dennis Fields of Sanbornton — and two Democrats — Lisa DiMartino of Gilford and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton — voted against the bill.
Representatives Beth Arsenault (D-Laconia), David Huot (D-Laconia), Bob Luther (R-Laconia) and Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) were absent and did not vote.
Modeled after legislation enacted in Colorado and Washington, the bill would allow individuals aged 21 and older to possess no more than one ounce of marijuana for recreational use as well as to cultivate as many six marijuana plants for personal use in a controlled environment. No fewer than 10 cultivation facilities would be licensed while the number of retail outlets would be no less than one for every ten liquor stores. Municipalities would be entitled to prohibit retail marijuana stores altogether or limit their number as well as to enact ordinances regulating their operation.
Marijuana production and sales would be taxed. A tax of $30 per ounce would be levied on marijuana sold or transferred by a cultivator to a manufacturer or retailer while retail sales would be taxed at 15 percent of the over-the-counter price. Supporters of the bill estimated that by taxing the cultivation and sales of marijuana the state could raise $30-million in revenue annually.
The Marijuana Policy Project applauded the House vote as being the first time a legislative chamber has voted to treat the drug like alcohol. "House members made history today and they are clearly on the right side of it," said Matt Simon, the group's New Hampshire-based New England political director.
Lawmakers have rejected decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use in the past, most recently last session. But decriminalization supporters were encouraged when the state — with Governor Maggie Hassan's backing — made it legal for the seriously ill to possess and use the drug last year. Implementing the state's medical marijuana law is expected to take another year.
The bill will be referred to the House Ways and Means Committee then returned to the full House for a final vote. Should the bill carry both the House and Senate, Hassan has vowed to veto it. (The Associated Press contributed to this story).