Rhode Island and New Hampshire are the final holdouts in New England. They the last two states in the region who continue to prohibit marijuana.
Cannabis advocates say it’s only a matter of time before the two states join their neighbors. That’s especially true, given the millions in extra revenue from marijuana sales. Then there are the calls for criminal justice reform, reports ABC News.
“I think the pressure will be there, being islands of prohibition in the Northeast,” said activist DeVaughn Ward. War works as the senior legislative counsel for the non-profit group the Marijuana Policy Project.
Hope In Rhode Island
Connecticut’s passage is what spurred the Rhode Island Legislature to vote on recreational use, according to Ward. The Rhode Island State Senate approved the bill, which would allow adult use and charge a 20% tax, on Tuesday night.
Rhode Island’s House version, however, won’t be coming up for a vote before the session ends next week. That’s because of a disagreement between lawmakers and Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee over one technical detail over regulation. The bill currently calls for the creation of an independent Cannabis Control Commission to regulate it. But the governor told reporters Tuesday he wants the state’s Department of Business Regulation to regulate sales.
Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said it’s still possible the House could hold a special session in the summer to address the bill.
Despite the governor’s comments, Ward predicted a “domino effect” brought on by other New England states’ successes in cannabis will take place this year.
New Hampshire Governor Opposes Legalization
In New Hampshire, local marijuana legalization advocates said the conservative, GOP-controlled state legislature and Gov. Chris Sununu’s vocal opposition to legalization will make it harder to make any progress, even in New England.
“Connecticut doesn’t do enough for New Hampshire because we have one person holding it back,” said activist Daryl Eames. Eames is founder of the New Hampshire Cannabis Association, an advocacy group.
Eames said an attempt to pass legalization in 2019 couldn’t get past a veto-proof majority in the state Senate. Arguments over the lost tax revenue and lost business to neighboring New England states haven’t been enough to sway conservative lawmakers, Eames said.
“It’s just something that’s not in their short-term plans,” he said.
That political obstructionism is not stopping Eames and state leaders who support legalization. He noted that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have formed cannabis caucuses, are gathering support for reform efforts.
‘More A Question of When Than If’
New Hampshire House Representative Timothy Egan, who chairs the Democratic House Cannabis Caucus, said legalizing cannabis was critical for the future.
“New Hampshire prides itself with independent thought and touts a state motto of Live Free or Die,” Egan said. “Legal access to adult use cannabis grown and marketed in New Hampshire without extensive government oversight is more than a right to create small businesses. It’s seeing personal cultivation and possession as a civil right.”
Eames predicted that if other states across the U.S. continue to legalize marijuana it will make a difference. Most importantly, if the federal government begins discussion to reschedule the substance, the governor and lawmakers will have to recalibrate.
“It does feel bad that we could be the only state in the region to not offer it, but it’s probably going to be more of a question of when than if,” he said.