CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire lawmakers took a step toward legalizing the recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday, even though a state commission studying the issue is months away from finishing its work.
The House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to cultivate it in limited quantities. Provisions that would have created a regulatory system for selling and taxing the drug were dropped from the amendment, which advanced to the House Ways and Means Committee on a vote of 207-139.
Opponents argued the bill is premature because a commission created last year to study the issue won’t make its recommendations until November.
“It is better to know the territory before setting off for a hike,” said Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston. “The commission is currently examining the landscape.”
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Welch leads the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which recommended killing the bill. But supporters said it is past time to legalize a drug that has been debated in the Statehouse for decades, particularly given movement in surrounding states.
“It looks bad for the reputation of the ‘Live Free or Die’ to be an island of prohibition surrounded by a sea of freedom,” said Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston.
The first pot shops in Massachusetts are slated to open later this year. Recreational marijuana use became legal for adults in Maine last year, though there is no way to legally buy it because Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill created by a bipartisan task force. In Vermont, lawmakers are expected to give final approval this week to legislation similar to the New Hampshire bill, and Republican Gov. Phil Scott has said he’d sign in.
Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said New Hampshire risks losing tourism dollars if it doesn’t legalize marijuana.
“The idea that New Hampshire is going to be this sole place where it’s not an option available I think will have a detrimental impact on the state,” he said. “The time is now. We need to move forward.”
A Granite State Poll conducted by the UNH Survey Center in May showed more than two-thirds of New Hampshire adults strongly support or somewhat support the legislation. Opponents include the advocacy group New Futures, which said it will continue to examine the issue through the study commission.