January 9, 2019: A Change Research poll asked likely Democratic primary voters about the most important issue for the state, and the top three answers were health care (17 percent), the environment (11 percent) and cannabis legalization (9 percent). The state's prohibitionist governor, Chris Sununu, might want to pay attention because legalization actually topped the opioid crisis (8 percent) and kitchen table issues like jobs and education (both at 6 percent). In terms of preferred candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders came out on top with 26 percent support, of whom nearly half made legalization their top issue. The 2019 legislative session just started, and three bipartisan bills have already been introduced that would either expand access or clear records of minor possession arrests. Sununu, a Trump supporter who signed legislation that would limit the number of college students who can vote, would likely veto any legislation that would legalize cannabis. However, the state legislature may already have enough votes to override such a veto.
What's Past Is Prologue
Current state lawmakers in New Hampshire must by now be quite annoyed with their state motto: Live Free or Die. It’s vague. It’s idealistic, much too far-fetched for a functioning government to live by. To live free means to compromise, trading freedoms like baseball cards.
This was the message the New Hampshire Senate sent to its people after striking down several attempts at legalization and decriminalization in the 2016 legislative session, making it the only New England state that continued to arrest and charge people for simple cannabis possession. This bad trend ended in July 2017 when the Republican governor signed a bill that decriminalized cannabis in small amounts. The original bill, HB 640, passed the House (318 to 36) in March and an amended version passed the Senate (17-6) in May, which shows how far New Hampshire has come in a short period of time.
New Hampshire’s medical marijuana (MMJ) program passed in 2013, but it took three for the government to approve in-state dispensaries. This left patients like Linda Horan—who had late-stage lung cancer and died in early 2016—to obtain MMJ illegally or go without. Horan, before her passing, sued the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and won, forcing the Governor’s Office to pre-issue MMJ cards before the first in-state dispensary opened and allow New Hampshire patients to legally buy cannabis in neighboring states and possess up to two ounces without fear of prosecution.
Horan first purchased legal MMJ on December 18, about six weeks before she passed. Though the court ruling only applied to her, the state mailed ID cards to 100 patients within days of the ruling. Remarkably, the Attorney General appealed the court ruling, saying Horan had to wait until the in-state dispensaries were open, and maintained the appeal even after her death.
“It’s a tight system and letting people go out of that to go to another state. . . we don’t feel that’s in line with what the statute is trying to accomplish,” said Assistant Attorney General Frank Fredericks according to the Concord Monitor.
And some feel it’s the Attorney General’s Office that is out of line.
“The AG’s office should have more respect for the dead,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, an MMJ proponent and good friend to Horan. “Linda Horan was a fierce fighter for what is right. Dead or alive, I think the truth of her position will prevail.”
The Attorney General's office does not reflect the general sentiment of the state. In May 2017, the University of New Hampshire released a poll that found cannabis support at an all-time high. Per the findings, 68 percent of the state now supports full legalization, with 49 percent saying they strongly support it. Only 27 percent opposed legalization. Support among self-described liberals reached 90 percent, while churchgoers led the opposition with 53 percent against it. At 36 percent support, residents aged 65+ made up the only age group opposed to legalization.
The latest poll numbers mark a significant shift. In 2013, support barely edged opposition (49 to 45 percent), suggesting a 19-point surge in just four years. New Hampshire does not have a process in which citizens can put a measure on the ballot—measures must come from the legislature—so full legalization will have to come from the state government.
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