By Rep. Steve Vaillancourt
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Far be it from me to ever suggest that we should legislate based on opinion polls.
However, those who find it equally clear that we do not legislate in a vacuum will serve the people of New Hampshire well by taking a look at how the numbers have completely turned around when it comes to legalization of marijuana.
When I spoke on the House floor four years ago in favor of gay marriage, I alluded to the biblical admonition “To everything there is a season.”
Even as we observe that Hawaii became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage last week, we can look with pride and recall how New Hampshire was the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage without being urged to do so by the courts.
In January, New Hampshire will again be graced with the opportunity to reassert its first-in-the-nation status. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana last year, but in both cases, it was by referendum. Voters spoke quite clearly, by 55 to 45 percent margins in both states, that it’s time to stop wasting millions of taxpayer dollars trying to enforce a ban which cannot and should not be enforced.
Rather than throw taxpayer money away and put people in jail for indulging in a substance far more benign than either alcohol or cigarettes, we should legalize, regulate and tax marijuana with a benefit to state coffers of somewhere between $20 million and $30 million a year.
Ours is not a referendum state, but by passing House Bill 492 the New Hampshire House has a chance to make history by becoming the first legislative body in the nation to move in this direction. The Criminal Justice Committee voted 11-7 against the bill but, mind you, that’s the same committee that was overturned by a huge margin on the House floor earlier this year after voting against a simple decriminalization bill.
Gone are the days when legislators had to fear being thrown out of office if they even dared think of legalization.
Back in 2000 when I introduced a medical marijuana bill, no one took it seriously. It received barely more than 100 votes on the House floor. Earlier this year, support for medical marijuana was so overwhelming that it passed without debate on the floor and by such a wide margin that those of us in favor were the ones calling for a recorded vote.
To everything there is a season.