New Hampshire marijuana bill gets public hearing

CONCORD, N.H. (WCAX) Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine: All the states that surround New Hampshire and have already legalized recreational marijuana. Now, there is a new push in the Granite State to do the same.

Committee hearings do not usually take place in the main House chamber at the Statehouse in Concord. But the possible legalization of cannabis brings out the crowds.

"Granite Staters know that it is already legal to grow and possess marijuana in all three neighboring states. They ask, why can't we do this in the live free or die state?" said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project.

HB.481 would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana sales in New Hampshire.

Cannabis is decriminalized in New Hampshire and medical marijuana is available for certain patients. But supporters of the bill, who held a press conference before the hearing, say it's time to end prohibition of the drug.

"We are going to encourage people to drive as far as they can, across the borders, to get their product and bring it home with the hopes that they will not use it on the way back," said Joe Hannon of Lee, New Hampshire, a former state rep.

And while HB.481 has bipartisan support, not everyone wants it to pass. Margaret Drye is a volunteer EMT from Plainfield. She's concerned about public safety and the lack of roadside tests for marijuana impairment.

"We have one for alcohol, 0.08. It's an easy number to aim for and you know when you have crossed it or you haven't. There is no such thing for marijuana," Drye said.

Alcohol is heavily promoted in the Granite State. State-run liquor stores scatter highways and shopping plazas.

"I don't think it is a great idea to sell liquor on the side of the highway, either," Drye said. "I think we are sending a really mixed message to our young people."

Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, is the bill's main sponsor.

"I certainly think there is an inconsistency between the state's promotion of and reliance on alcohol to feed a bit of the state's budget and its prohibition of the use of cannabis which is a far more benign substance than alcohol," Cushing said.

Gov. Chris Sununu, R-New Hampshire, has made his position very clear. He does not support legalization. So, if the bill passes, it may come down to whether there is enough support to override a veto.