The New Hampshire Senate rejected a marijuana legalization bill Thursday, leaving it the only state in New England that makes smoking pot recreationally a crime.
Republicans, who control the Senate, led the effort to dismiss the bill on a 14-10 vote.
Though several bipartisan bills in support of legalization have cleared the House in recent years, the Senate has blocked them. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said earlier this year that he didn’t expect new legislation to reach his desk with teen drug use and overdoses on the rise.
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Republican Senate President Jeb Bradley said the time isn’t right to legalize marijuana, as the state combats a drug addiction and overdose crisis.
“Recreationalizing marijuana at this critical juncture would send a confusing message, potentially exacerbating the already perilous drug landscape and placing more lives at risk,” he said in a written statement.
House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm said the push to legalize marijuana has strong support in New Hampshire. He said regulating the drug could also help protect public health.
“Every day that New Hampshire remains an island of prohibition, more voluntary tax revenue from our residents flows to surrounding states to fund programs and services benefitting their residents,” Wilhelm said in a press release.
The bill, which had been approved by the House, would have put the state’s Liquor Commission in charge of regulating marijuana, with a 12.5% tax levied at the cultivation level.
Most of the tax revenue would have gone toward reducing the state’s pension liability and the state’s education trust fund, with some set aside for substance abuse prevention programs and police training.
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Opponents have focused on the impact of the drug crisis on families, individuals and communities, and noted strong opposition from the law enforcement community.
Frank Knaack, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, faulted those senators who opposed the initiative.
“These lawmakers are willing to ignore the will of their own constituents and are okay with continuing to needlessly ensnare over a thousand people — disproportionately Black people — in New Hampshire’s criminal justice system every year,” he said.
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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 along partisan lines on Tuesday to recommend that the full Senate reject the bill. The committee also made similar recommendations on bills that would allow homegrown cannabis for therapeutic purposes and would lower penalties on some drug violations.