N.H. House Overwhelmingly Passes Measures to Loosen State's Marijuana Laws

Mar 8, 2017

The New Hampshire House worked its way Wednesday through dozens of bills.

Among the measures approved are proposed changes to the state’s drug laws and public school funding.

NHPR’s Paige Sutherland has been covering Wednesday’s session and joins All Things Considered Host Peter Biello from the Statehouse in Concord.

So I hear the House approved some new regulations that address some, let’s say, 21st Century issues.

Yes – the first one would put in regulations for online fantasy sports outlets like DraftKings. These outlets that want to do business in New Hampshire would have to pay a $5,000 annual registration fee as well as 5 percent annual tax of its gross revenue. Other states, including New York, have adopted similar measures.

The House also passed a bill Wednesday regulating the use of drones. Currently New Hampshire doesn’t regulate drones except forbidding their use for fishing and hunting. The proposal would restrict flying within 250 feet of private property or near critical infrastructures such as prisons. You also wouldn’t be allowed to use drones to take photos of people without consent.

This law has passed the House several times but has fallen flat in the Senate.

The House also OK’d a bill to decriminalize an ounce of marijuana – was there much of a debate on this?

Actually there was zero. The bill easily cleared the House 318 to 26. I think it’s because this issue has come up several times in recent years. The real question will be how it does in the Senate —if past years are any indication, not very well. Last year there was objection to the idea of loosening  drug laws while in the midst of an opioid crisis.

In a voice vote the House also passed a bill to create a study commission on the legislation of marijuana.

The House also passed measures adding chronic pain and PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical marijuana program but said no to adding opioid addiction. 

Governor Chris Sununu has said he backs decriminalizing marijuana and will sign it if it reaches his desk. Another measure that passed, he said he supports is the so-called Croydon Bill. What exactly does that bill do?

This bill would allow school districts to use state dollars to send kids to private and public schools out of district if there is not a public school in the area. This bill is a response to a court decision ordering the town of Croydon, which does not have a public school for grades 5 to 12, to stop using tax dollars to send its students to a nearby private school.

But this bill would override that court decision. Supporters of the bill –predominantly Republicans - say parents and local school districts should have the choice to send kids where they deem appropriate.

The Governor and new State Education Commissioner both back the bill. There’s also a similar measure that just cleared the Senate; however, that bill does not exclude religious schools as the House one does.

The session is not over, correct, what other bills do you expect will come up later and tomorrow?

The House Speaker says he doesn’t expect to wrap the day up until the earliest 8 o’clock – so still a lot of work ahead. Some big issues that are expected to receive a robust debate is one looking to add gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination laws, which would include public restrooms.

This morning a group of advocates protested outside the Statehouse urging lawmakers to pass this. But some – like House Speaker Shawn Jasper – are not too keen on making this change, saying it would open the door for predators to prey on women.

There’s also a bill likely to be addressed tomorrow that would legalize the video lottery game keno as well as one to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 years old.