NH House approves pot legalization; long haul ahead - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

NH House approves pot legalization; long haul ahead

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Erica Golter is New Hampshire's state director for NORML, a national organization with a mission to reform marijuana laws.  Recently she has spent a lot of time at the state house in Concord. "We have been actively working with other major cannabis organizations in the state," she said.

Last week, New Hampshire's House passed a bill legalizing up to 1 ounce of marijuana for anyone over 21.  It would be regulated similar to alcohol.   The bill also allows people to grow up to six pot plants in a controlled environment.  It's good news to Golter, who supports the legalization of cannabis -- mostly for its health benefits.
"Everything that you need to feel better, physically and emotionally can be grown in a garden," she said.

But those in law enforcement say the House's bill is a bad idea. "An ounce is not a small amount -- it is a large amount," said Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate.
Crate says, among other things, legalization will lead to more crime. "We already have a problem with people growing it illegally and that is not going to change.  If anything that is going to increase," he said.

The proposed bill would tax the sale of marijuana at 30 dollars per ounce -- an estimated $30 million in annual tax revenue.  But Crate says that money will come at a cost.  
"There is a discussion about the tax revenue that is going to come in but it is also going to go out with an increase in crime as well as an increase of medical costs associated with the use of marijuana," he said.

Like more people seeking treatment for drug abuse. The state Health Department is drawing attention to research that shows about one in 10 adolescents in New Hampshire ages 12- 17 report regular use of marijuana.  According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, it's the 9th highest rate in the country.  Crate says legalization is the wrong message to send to kids.  "You know these discussions and minimizing the dangers posed by it have sent a message to our youth -- that is not that bad, that it is not as dangerous -- so I think that is why we are seeing that increase," he said.

But advocates, like Golter disagree. "When it has to do with children, that has to do with parenting," she said. She says regulation should not even be needed, likening pot to an herb in the kitchen. She argues the house bill will actually make the streets safer for kids. "If you are requiring people 21 years and older to produce an I.D., that brings the black market out onto the retail market and it will make it more difficult for children to get their hands on it," Golter said.

The New Hampshire Senate has yet to act on the bill and Governor Maggie Hassan has vowed to veto it if it lands on her desk.  However, advocates say, regardless of the outcome, it's a positive step in the right direction.  

The bill was modeled after one approved by Colorado voters last year and is similar to one Washington voters passed.  Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

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