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Marijuana reform branches out

Marijuana laws see legislative action across the East Coast
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Marijuana laws see legislative action across the East Coast

Marijuana law reform branched out across the East Coast today with significant government action at the New Hampshire and New York statehouses as well as the Washington D.C. City Council. The legislative action coincided with a new ABC News/Washington Post poll that finds the country evenly split on marijuana legalization with 49% in favor and 48% opposed. 

New Hampshire lawmakers approved a bill modeled after Colorado’s recently enacted pot laws authorizing marijuana possession for adults over 21. Passed by a 170-162 vote, House Bill 492 represents the first time in American history that a legislative body has voted to end marijuana prohibition. The bill  allows possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and contains language regulating marijuana cultivation facilities and retail outlets and imposing a $30 per ounce tax on retail sales.  

Despite its passage, the bill would have faced dim prospects. The state Senate voted down a less comprehensive marijuana decriminalization bill last year, and HB 492 has an opponent at the governor’s mansion as well.  Less than six months after signing the state’s medical marijuana law, Governor Maggie Hassan told local media that she would veto the bill. ” I just think it’s the wrong message to send to young people,” she said.  Nevertheless, marijuana advocates such as Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, heralded the vote. “House members made history today, and they are clearly on the right side of it,” he said. A WMUR Granite State poll conducted in October found 60% of respondents supported the bill.

Down the seaboard, New York State Assembly Health Committee voted 20-4 to advance the Compassionate Care Act on Tuesday. The bill would make up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana available to patients suffering from debilitating illnesses through state-registered non-profit dispensaries. The same bill passed the state Assembly with bipartisan support in 2013, but the Senate failed to act on it.

The vote comes roughly a week after Governor Cuomo’s executive order authorizing a limited medical marijuana program; a move that some lawmakers say doesn’t go far enough.  “The Compassionate Care Act is needed even with Governor Cuomo’s Executive action on medical marijuana,” said Richard N. Gottfried, Chair of the State Assembly Health Committee and author of the bill. Medical marijuana received the support of 70% of New York voters in a Quinnipiac poll in June.

In D.C. all five members of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety voted in favor of removing criminal penalties for the possession of less than an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana.  If passed into law, B20-409 – the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 - would reduce marijuana possession from a misdemeanor charge with a potential sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine to a civil offense resulting in a fine as low as $25.

Leading the effort is D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells, who frames the legislation as an effort to help minority youth. “We know that 90% of those charged for small amounts are generally young African-Americans. For those, a $25 fine and losing whatever paraphernalia will be an impact,” he told the Washington Post

Following today’s vote, the measure is expected to be taken up by the full city council where it reportedly enjoys majority support and Mayor Vincent Gray’s backing, not to mention support from 63% of D.C. residents.