MEREDITH — The prospects seem dim for the New Hampshire Legislature to pass a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, let alone get Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to sign such a measure into law.
But that's not stopping an anti-marijuana group from urging municipalities to go on record as wanting to opt out of any marijuana legalization law that may pass in the state.
Representatives of Smart Approaches to Marijuana New Hampshire (SAM NH) appeared before the Meredith Selectboard on Monday night to urge them to draft a warrant article on the topic. The Meredith Selectboard agreed to have Town Manager Phil Warren put together such an article.
House Bill 481, a marijuana legalization measure, passed the House last year but was held up in a Senate committee, which recommended further study. Then, on Wednesday, the full Senate referred it to an interim study.
Warren said that, if a marijuana legalization bill were to pass and the community wanted to opt out, it would also likely be necessary to pass new zoning regulations.
Selectboard member Jeanie Forrester said a warrant article is a good place to start.
“Basically, if we put this language in as a warrant article, it is just sending a message this year to folks about where this community stands on this issue, and I think it’s an important issue for the whole community to weigh in on,” she said.
Bill Luti, a representative of SAM NH, said that, in Colorado, which has approved legalization of marijuana, 175 out of 243 communities have banned retail marijuana shops in their towns and cities.
“Even in Massachusetts, which legalized just a few years ago, over 100 communities have banned retail pot shops,” he said. “In California, over 80 percent of the towns and communities have banned pot shops.”
He predicted that Manchester officials would pass an ordinance prohibiting such establishments within city limits.
Luti said the marijuana industry over-promises tax revenues associated with pot sales.
He said such revenues are typically reduced by black market sales and price declines associated with an oversupply of marijuana.
“Don’t get me wrong, there is tax revenue, but you’re going to have to make the judgment on whether or not the amount of revenue that you take in is going to be enough to offset the social harms and social ills that can come along with retail pot shops in your town,” he said.
A Surgeon General’s report from last year noted that the potency of marijuana has increased over the years and warned of the dangers it may pose when used in adolescence and during pregnancy.
Luti said in states where marijuana has been legalized or is being considered for legalization, communities often choose to opt out of enabling legislation under the belief that marijuana sales are incompatible with the character of their community.
“They are asking a very reasonable and logical question, ‘Why are we legally introducing another intoxicant in the middle of the worst opioid crisis the nation has faced in its history?’’’
Rep. Casey Conley, D-Dover, is one of the co-sponsors of House Bill 481 to legalize and regulate cannabis.
“We know a majority of New Hampshire residents favor this,” he said. “We know that prohibition has failed. We know there are significant costs involved from a law enforcement and criminal justice side from pursuing this kind of offense, and we know that, in places that have legalized this, by and large, there has not been a significant negative effect on the general society or well being.
“One can cherry pick data to make their point on either side of this issue. What this bill would do is regulate sales, raise taxes that would be used for a number of different purposes, and make it available for adults 21-plus.
“The main pushback is that this is going to send a negative signal to our children. That’s completely false. This is a bill targeting adults. It maintains the prohibition for children, as it should.”
The National Conference of State Legislatures says on its website that the District of Columbia and 11 states, including Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use.
Many other states have medical marijuana laws or have decriminalized recreational use.