Tue | Feb 25, 2020

Lawmakers could delay weed proposals

Published:Sunday | May 19, 2019 | 12:36 AM


After the movement to legalise marijuana scored several victories in New England, pot proponents have come up against unexpected stumbling blocks in New Hampshire and Vermont.

In Vermont, the recreational use of marijuana has been legal for almost a year, but the recreational marijuana law that took effect July 1 has no mechanism to sell the substance legally or to regulate the market. The Vermont Senate passed a tax and regulate proposal earlier this session, but it won’t be acted upon in the House before January. Meanwhile, a legalisation bill in New Hampshire could end up similarly delayed.

Vermont Democratic State Senator Dick Sears, a long-time proponent of marijuana legalisation and more recently establishing a tax-and-regulate system, says he’s frustrated by what he sees as a lack of urgency in the House.

He says the lack of a tax and regulate system is driving a black market for marijuana, and without a regulation, there is no way to be sure what is in the marijuana being sold illegally in the state.

“We need to get a tax and regulated system as soon as possible, not necessarily for the money, but to at least regulate what people are using for a drug,” Sears said Friday.

Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson has said the chamber doesn’t have time to deal with the issue before adjournment, expected within the next few days.

Vermont’s Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who supported the legalisation proposal last year, has said he’s concerned about highway safety, and he’d like to see some effective way to measure impairment of drivers who use marijuana. He hasn’t said whether he would sign a bill setting up a tax and regulation system if one reaches his desk.

Under the Vermont law that took effect July 1 with little fanfare, adults over age 21 are allowed to possess up to one ounce (28 grams) of marijuana, two mature marijuana plants and four immature plants. With no provisions in the law for pot shops, users must grow it themselves or buy it from illicit dealers.

In New Hampshire, the House passed a bill to legalise recreational use of marijuana last month, but without enough votes to override Republican Governor Chris Sununu’s promised veto. A Senate committee recently recommended delaying action on the bill until late December or early next year, though the full Senate has yet to vote on the recommendation.

“I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before we even begin to consider legalising marijuana,” Senator Sharon Carson, a Judiciary Committee member and legalisation opponent, told the Concord Monitor. She raised concerns about how to limit advertising to children and testing drivers impaired by smoking marijuana.

“I think, for me, the biggest issue is the federal side,” said Carson, R-Londonderry. “New Hampshire is legalising something that is federally illegal.”

The House-passed bill would legalize possession up to one ounce of marijuana. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six plants, and a commission would be set up to license and regulate an industry supporters said could produce US$33 million per year.

Ten states have legalised recreational marijuana.