State Rep. Urges Cannabis Legalization

President-Elect Joe Biden, left, with state Rep. Timothy Egan, D-Sugar Hilll, at a town hall in Concord in June 2019. (Photo by Christopher Dilts/Biden for President)

LITTLETON — Recreational marijuana is legal in all of the states in northern New England.

Except for New Hampshire.

Rep. Tim Egan (D-Easton) wants to change that. He has submitted legislation to legalize marijuana use, possession and cultivation. It is one of five bills up for consideration in 2022.

“New Hampshire can no longer stay an island,” he said.

Egan, 57, delivered his message to a dozen people during a meeting of the North Country chapter of the New Hampshire Cannabis Association at The Loading Dock on Thursday.

Those in attendance were receptive.

Nancy (last name not given), a recreational cannabis user for about 50 years, described herself as a contributing member of society. A mother and businesswoman, she was fed up with the stigma attached to marijuana use.

“I’m tired of being considered criminal,” she said.

THAWING SUPPORT

The chair of the Democratic House Cannabis Caucus, Egan said, there is growing bipartisan support for legalization.

In spite of political divisions in Concord, he said, opposing factions have found common ground on the issue.

The Democratic House Cannabis Caucus has approximately 50 members and a significant number of Republicans have also expressed interest, reflecting growing support statewide, he said.

A recent University of New Hampshire survey showed that 75% of residents support legalization for recreation use. That included 86% of Democrats, 83% of independents, and 62% of Republicans.

Open about his own marijuana use, Egan said there were compelling reasons for legalization.

The recreational marijuana industry would create jobs, offer property tax relief, and could address ongoing state budget challenges, such as education and mental health.

If it capitalizes on New Hampshire’s low tax rates, it would retain in-state dollars, draw out-of-state customers, and bolster the state’s travel and tourism industry.

Noting that recreational marijuana was a multi-billion dollar business in Massachusetts, he said, “It has the potential to be a game-changer.”

HEALTH BENEFITS

Egan also described the mental health and therapeutic benefits of marijuana.

According to Egan, a friend who was a combat veteran in Iraq and Afghanistan, who had been prescribed “27 different meds” for post-traumatic stress disorder and had attempted suicide three times, found relief through legal marijuana in Massachusetts.

“He said ‘It changed my life, it gave me my life back’,” Egan said.

Among those in attendance on Thursday was 74-year-old Katherine Darges, a medical marijuana cardholder.

She said a broken back, which has required five surgeries and “will never be right again,” has left her with chronic pain. She said marijuana products have provided relief, minus the side effects of prescription opiates, and without them “I’d be bedridden.”

While grateful, she said the state’s therapeutic cannabis program was costly and inconvenient. Dispensaries are located a minimum of 45 minutes from the North Country and they charge significantly more than surrounding states and the illegal market. She supported legal recreational marijuana as a way to open up the market and drive down costs.

“I have to go to a dispensary and spend a ridiculous amount of money to get my products,” she said, noting that the recreational out-of-state market offers the same products for “a quarter of the price.”

LEGISLATIVE LANDSCAPE

Last week, the House Criminal Justice Committee killed two bills supporting legalization.

HB 629, (lead sponsor Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Merrimack) would legalize possession of up to three-quarter ounces of marijuana for adults over age 21 and allow cultivation of up to six plants, but not sales.

HB 237 (lead sponsor Rep. Casey Conley, D-Dover) would legalize possession of up to an ounce and home-growing of up to six plants for adults over 21, and would establish a regulated and taxed commercial market.

Both were rejected by mainly party-line votes.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have filed five pieces of legislation addressing marijuana legalization ahead of the 2022 session.

Egan and Rep. Stacie Marie Laughton (D-Hillsborough) have submitted bill requests for the coming year.

Egan’s is modeled on Vermont’s law. It would allow possession of up to an ounce, cultivation of up to nine plants (three mature, six immature) and would prohibit marijuana-based housing covenants. Laughton also addresses the expungement of past marijuana crimes.

In addition, three legislators — Democratic House Minority Leader Robert Cushing (D-Hampton), Rep. Josh Adjutant (D-Enfield), and Rep. Andrew Prout (R-Hudson) — are pushing for constitutional amendments to legalize marijuana. Those proposals would require three-fifths approval in the House and Senate, and two-thirds support from voters to ratify the amendment.

Grassroots efforts will be critical to those legislative efforts, Egan said.

The New Hampshire Cannabis Association’s North Country group will continue to hold meetings like the Loading Dock event, in order to grow local support and visibility of the issue.

Egan urged those in attendance to recruit friends, to increase turnout at future events. He also called on them to contact legislators, to make their support known.

“There’s probably about 4,000 people in this community that are pro-cannabis. But people are worried about the stigma,” he said. “The more people speak out and the more that legislators, federal and state, hear that folks are for this, it’s going to change their opinion.”

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