NH is just pissing into the wind on MJ.
N.H. police talk marijuana enforcement on the border with legal-pot states
Police Chief Andy Shagoury’s town of Tuftonboro is nestled on Lake Winnipesaukee and sits about 20 miles from New Hampshire’s border with Maine. Marijuana is legal in Maine, and the reality of people bringing the dried plant into the Granite State doesn’t sit well with the president of New Hampshire’s association of chiefs of police.
“This isn’t the marijuana of the ’80s. This is much stronger,” he said. “We need to make sure everyone realizes that it is not legal here in New Hampshire.”
Changing laws in Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and Canada – all of which will have legalized marijuana by year’s end – have turned New Hampshire into a political and legal island. Advocates for legalization say it is only a matter of time until New Hampshire allows adults to use cannabis, which would make it the 10th state to legalize and the fourth in New England. The state’s Democratic party has now made it an official part of its platform. Gov. Chris Sununu has repeatedly said he will veto any attempt to legalize.
But as the legal marijuana market rapidly grows along New Hampshire’s borders, law enforcement officials from all over the state insist nothing has changed and they will enforce the laws on the books right now.
“We’re seeing some come over state lines now from other states with supposedly tightly regulated markets that is being distributed here,” Shagoury said.
Currently, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and Canada do not have stores that sell cannabis for recreational use. Marijuana bought over state lines is still being carried illegally because a federally taxed and regulated market has not been created.
As New Hampshire law stands right now, three-fourths of an ounce or less of marijuana is decriminalized for people 18 and older. Anyone caught with three-fourths of an ounce or less will face a citation of $100 for the first two offenses. This fine rises to $300 on the third offense. Anything over that limit will result in a misdemeanor charge and potential jail time.
With New Hampshire’s relatively new decriminalization law, Shagoury said he has not seen a reduction in violations, but it has eased the burden on law enforcement to follow through on marijuana infractions.
Rindge police Chief Daniel Anair said the decriminalization law has “been helpful in the fact that it’s not as time-consuming a process for the same end result.”
Rindge has also not seen a glaring change in the number of violations handed out, Anair said. But with a citation rather than potential jail time, decriminalization has streamlined the process for fining someone. Officers no longer have to arrest, process, jail and send samples to the state lab for testing.
But a simpler process for law enforcement doesn’t mean it’s easier for offenders. One convenience store in Rindge has a parking lot that sits on the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border. Anair said with visitors being confused about the changing laws, people who are stopped in that parking lot will often question how two paces can be the difference between receiving a citation and getting off scot-free.
With laws on both sides of the border that differ from federal law, Anair said it’s actually made people more honest with officers.
“I feel like they probably have less to lose, so the cooperation level with us is much higher,” he said. In the past, people would often deny any existence of marijuana on their person or in their vehicle. Now, Anair said, people just offer it up.
“It’s alleviated some of the red tape and some of the manpower, time constraints, so to speak, in dealing with marijuana violations,” he said.
Though he does not advocate legalization, Lebanon police Chief Richard Mello sits on the commission to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in New Hampshire. With his city straddling the Connecticut River on the Vermont border, he also sees the challenge of marijuana users navigating two sets of laws. Mello emphasized that visitors from Vermont need to understand the laws of the state they are entering.
Hinsdale borders the Vermont town of Brattleboro, home to one of the Green Mountain state’s four medical marijuana dispensaries. If Vermont moves forward in the future with a tax-and-regulate system, Brattleboro could become the hub for southern Vermonters to buy their cannabis. With a narrow stretch of the Connecticut River separating the towns, Hinsdale police Chief Todd Faulkner said it’s not the proximity to legal marijuana that bothers him, but the laws themselves.
He said he is “not impressed” with the decriminalization law in New Hampshire, saying it’s basically legalization but with a fine when users are caught. If and when Vermont begins recreational sales, Faulkner said he expects an increase in violations in Hinsdale.
Nashua police Chief Andrew Lavoie voiced frustration at offenders’ confusion as they cross his city’s border from Massachusetts.
“It’s not our job to educate people on New Hampshire law,” Lavoie said, drawing a comparison to another hotly debated topic – guns.
In New Hampshire, gun owners don’t need a license to carry a firearm, but they do in Massachusetts. If New Hampshire residents brings their handguns across the border without a permit to carry it, they will most likely be arrested for possessing an illegal firearm. Conversely, if users bring an ounce of legal Massachusetts marijuana into New Hampshire, they will likely be arrested for that.
Lavoie summed it up: “You can’t transport over the border.”
Conway police Lt. Christopher Mattei drew another comparison about the bordering Fryeburg, Maine. Maine towns can enact their own regulations on marijuana, which Fryeburg has, Mattei said.
He compared the discrepancy to laws surrounding alcohol. In “dry towns,” where booze is not allowed, people can just drive to the next town to buy some drinks, then find themselves caught in a legal limbo where something is legal in one town but not the next. He said residents in Conway could soon find themselves in a similar situation, especially without a patrolled border like the one with Canada.
Still, despite the changing laws and the confusion the might be causing, Mattei said the stigma around marijuana has changed, and officers don’t dig as deep into minor marijuana violations.
Shagoury, however, disputed the effects of looser marijuana laws, especially legalization in other states.
“I think if you look at it objectively, what’s happening in the other states, the benefits haven’t been there that a lot of proponents said,” he argued.
He maintained that marijuana should not be legalized, pointing to a strong black market in western states, increased hospital visits, higher rates of driver impairment and legal marijuana in the hands of children.
He also mentioned the “sharing system” as another reason legalization isn’t working in other states in districts. In Vermont and Washington, D.C., users can gift someone up to an ounce of marijuana so long as there is no exchange for the cannabis – no sale. A quick search on Craigslist and you’ll see various posts offering anything under the sun, including just a delivery fee, which comes with a “free gift” of marijuana conspicuously similar to the price of illegal marijuana sales.
“The share has been abused and it’s a mockery,” Shagoury said.
He also called out proponents who say legalization will help curb black market profits.
“You’ve got to understand these people are willing to violate federal law,” he said. “What makes you think they’re all of a sudden going to obey a state law that would cost them a lot of money? I think that’s wishful thinking.”
For all the talk of looser state laws, New Hampshire does not have any legal marijuana framework. The drug is still illegal at the federal level, and transporting any controlled substance across state lines is a felony. Across New Hampshire, police departments will continue to enforce laws currently on the books.
Shagoury said he thinks the future will hold more conversations and legislation within the state. Anair supported that idea.
“I think the federal government and state governments need to get on the same page before I would feel comfortable with New Hampshire moving any more forward than they already have,” Anair said.
Campaign to legalize marijuana launched by top N.H. Democrat in state Senate
The top Democrat in New Hampshire’s Senate is kicking off a campaign to have the Granite State join its neighbors in legalizing recreational marijuana.
“We’re in the business of listening to what the people want, and we need to get our heads out of the sand and recognize reality that all of our neighbors are moving towards,” state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn told the Monitor
The North Country Democrat launched an online petition Sunday, as a new law in Vermont went into effect allowing adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow two adult and four immature marijuana plants per household.
Voters in Massachusetts and Maine approved legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016. And come October, New Hampshire will be totally surrounded
, as a new law makes Canada the second nation to legalize marijuana.
“We have a tremendous amount of evidence by looking at our neighbors and we can build a truly ‘New Hampshire’ system to bring legalization in line with the rest of the region,” Woodburn said.
Woodburn’s goal is to deliver 5,000 signatures in support of marijuana legalization to Gov. Chris Sununu on Aug. 1. And he said he hopes to have 10,000 signatures by October, when Canadian legalization
goes into effect.
“We need our government to listen to us,” Woodburn said. “The effort here is to try to deliver as many petitions as possible to the governor.”
Sununu, the state’s first Republican governor in a dozen years, last year signed into law a measure that decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession. That move had been opposed by his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Maggie Hassan, who’s now the state’s junior U.S. senator.
But Sununu does not support marijuana legalization.
“Are you kidding? We’re in the middle of one of the biggest drug crises the state has ever seen,” the governor said earlier this year in an interview with the Monitor
and WKXL radio in Concord.
“To go to full recreational marijuana when other states are seeing all the problems it has in other states, the issues it’s bearing – it’s definitely not something that I’m supportive of right now,” he said.
And last week Sununu’s drug czar also went on the record with his opposition.
“At this time where we are struggling to get help with addiction, it is not a good time to be legalizing marijuana and introducing our children to another drug,” David Mara, the governor’s addiction and behavioral health adviser, said at an event at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
The state House of Representatives voted
in March to sidetrack a bill that would have legalized small amounts of marijuana, even though the same legislation had gained the House’s support earlier in the year. The governor promised a veto if the measure had reached his desk.
Last month, the New Hampshire Democratic Party approved a platform that includes a plank supporting the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana.
Woodburn said that, if re-elected in November, he’ll introduce a new bill in next year’s legislative session.
“I view it similar to marriage equality. You have to get over that speed bump of resistance. The evidence around us is going to be clear and compelling,” Woodburn said.
And he predicted that “as people live with it, they’re going to be more comfortable with some of those old myths and notions falling by the wayside.”
State Rep. Renny Cushing, who has long championed legalizing recreational marijuana, recently told the Monitor
, “It’s inevitable.”
“July 1 we’re going to see sales of recreational marijuana for adults in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and I’m pretty sure the sky’s not going to fall on Massachusetts. It’s not going to fall on Maine. It’s not going to fall on Vermont,” the Hampton Democrat said. “New Hampshire will end up getting in step with our neighboring states in legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana.”
But not all Democrats are on board.
House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff of Concord opposed the party’s plank for marijuana legalization.
“If the vote was today, I would probably be voting ‘no’ simply because there is a legislative commission that’s meeting to look at the impact of legalization on the state of New Hampshire,” Shurtleff said.
That commission has met numerous times and is expected to issue its report at the beginning of November.
“As a courtesy to those serving on the commission, I would wait until they finish their work and issue their report,” Shurtleff said.
A University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll conducted in February indicated 56 percent support for legalization, with 25 percent opposed. And the poll indicated that the issue cuts across party lines.
“What’s really interesting is that the support’s really bipartisan,” UNH pollster Andrew Smith said of the results.
Sixty-one percent of Democrats, 56 percent of independents and 49 percent of Republicans backed marijuana legalization, according to the survey.
But Smith noted that the topic is “not near the top of people’s most important issues.
“It’s not something that they have grave concern about,” he said.
Woodburn said marijuana legalization won’t be a top issue as the Democrats try to win the majority back in the state Legislature this November.
“I think it’s a good sub-issue. The bread-and-butter economic issues are, I think, what drives the political debate,” he said.
He also highlighted the “tremendous economic opportunity” in regulating and taxing legalized marijuana, and he used that as a counter to Sununu’s argument about the drug crisis.
“This money could be used to fight the opioid epidemic,” he said.
Woodburn hopes the governor will get on board.
“I do believe this is an issue that crosses all political divides,” Woodburn said. “Governor Sununu has put himself in front of this cause to continue the prohibition of marijuana, and I wish he was more open to it.”