By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A strong majority of the Belknap County Delegation, both Democrats and Republicans, voted in favor of a bill to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
House Bill 656 passed the House of Representatives last week, 207-139. It now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee. It could come back to the House and would still need to pass the Senate before consideration by Gov. Chris Sununu, who opposes the bill.
Eight Republicans and two Democrats in the county delegation voted in favor of House Bill 656 last week, while five Republicans voted against. Absent was Rep. Peter Varney, R-Alton.
Rep. Charlie St. Clair, D-Laconia, who voted for the legislation, said constituents asked him to support the bill and many nearby states have already moved to legalize marijuana.
“The reality, according to polls, is that the majority of people favor this, and certainly my own discussions with constituents bear that out,” he said.
Rep. Peter Spanos, R-Laconia, strongly opposed the bill.
“It is beyond asinine, in this state, in the midst of an unprecedented opioid crisis, to legalize any kind of psychoactive drug,” he said.
Rep. David Huot, D-Laconia, supported the bill. He rejected the idea that legalization of small amounts of marijuana would affect the opioid crisis.
“I don't know there is a connection there that can be made,” he said. “That is conflating two different issues.”
Sununu signed a bill into law last year that reduces the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine. Under HB 656, there would be no criminal penalty for adult possession of that amount.
Shortly before last week's vote in the House, Sununu told the Concord Monitor and WKXL radio in Concord that he opposed the legislation.
“Are you kidding? We are in the middle of one of the biggest drug crises the state has ever seen,” Sununu said. “To go to a full recreational marijuana when other states are seeing all the problems it has and issues it is bearing — it’s definitely not something I’m supportive of right now.”
Kate Frey, vice president of advocacy at New Futures, a nonprofit that works on behalf of improving health and wellness in New Hampshire, said the House decision was disappointing and opens the door to “Big Marijuana.”
“Allowing commercialization in New Hampshire is bad for our communities and the overall public health of our state,” she said. “It devalues our workforce and puts our youth at further risk.”
Belknap County Delegation members who voted in favor of the bill were reps. Valerie Fraser, R-New Hampton; Glen Aldrich, R-Gilford; Norman Silber, R-Gilford; Herb Vadney, R-Meredith; David Huot, D-Laconia; Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton; Michael Sylvia, R-Belmont; Barbara Comtois, R-Barnstead; Raymond Howard Jr., R-Alton; and Charlie St. Clair, D-Laconia.
Delegation members who voted in opposition were Reps. Marc Abear, R-Meredith; Peter Spanos, R-Laconia; Frank Tilton, R-Laconia; Dennis Fields, R-Sanbornton; and John Plumer, R-Belmont.