CONCORD — When the New Hampshire Legislature meets in January, the long-running campaign to legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana for any use will be championed by Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont).
Sylvia, who moved to New Hampshire with the Free State Project in 2010 and is serving his second term in the House of Representatives, said "I'd rather drink a beer than smoke a joint," then added, "As a supporter of liberty, I believe in supporting everybody's liberty."
Sylvia's legislation, House Bill 1610, permit those 21 or older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate no more than six marijuana plants — three or fewer if mature — on property the grower owns, leases or controls. The bill would permit the transfer of one ounce of marijuana from one adult to another so long as no money changes hands.
Sylvia said that much of the opposition to legislation that would legalize or decriminalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana for personal use arises from a reluctance to adopt a state statute that violates the federal law. He explained that to overcome this objection, he modeled his bill on the law adopted in the District of Columbia in February after nearly two-thirds of voters approved a ballot initiative in November 2014.
"Congress has the authority to prevent it," Sylvia said, "but didn't."
About a dozen bills seeking to decriminalize or legalize marijuana have come before the New Hampshire Legislature in the past decade. While these efforts have found increasing support and even majorities in the House, they have failed, most often by voice vote, in the Senate. Bills to decriminalize possession of a quarter-ounce or less of marijuana carried the House in 2009, 2012 and 2013, but failed in the Senate. In 2014, a bill to license the cultivation, regulate the distribution and tax the sale of marijuana failed in the House by a 192 to 140 vote. This year, legislation establishing a commission to study legitimizing the sale of marijuana passed the House by a voice vote and died by a voice vote in the Senate.
"I'm confident my bill will pass the House," Sylvia said, "and that the Senate will do its things. But, it's another shot across the bow."
He claimed that "the war on drugs is a failure" and "pushing drugs onto the black market makes the situation much worse." He said that his bill would encourage individual freedom while diminishing the traffic in illicit drugs and the crime associated with it.
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