As the Marijuana Policy Project reported on Friday, New Hampshire is on its way to becoming the 19th medical marijuana state in the US. Governor Maggie Hassan has released a statement expressing her approval of House Bill 573 and her intention to sign the measure. Although this is a compromise measure, under which home cultivation of marijuana will continue to be prohibited, it is still a major step forward for a state which has seemed to lag behind the rest of New England in marijuana policy reform.
Liberalized marijuana policies in the US are associated in the minds of many with the West Coast. In 1996, California was the first state to pass a voter initiative legalizing the possession and cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes, with Washington state and Oregon following suit in 1998. But more recent reforms have made most of New England similarly tolerant of the drug.
Currently, as seen here, New Hampshire is the only New England state which has not already signed serious marijuana policy reforms into law. Vermont became the latest state to reform its marijuana laws with a decriminalization measure concerning possession for personal use, signed into law just this month by governor Pete Shumlin. Rhode Island did the same in June of 2012, and the law went into effect in April of this year, while Connecticut passed a similar measure in June of 2011. Massachusetts voters approved their own decriminalization initiative in November of 2008, while Maine had been the first in the region to pass such a measure in the 1970s, later expanding it in 2009.
Medical marijuana has also been successful in the region in recent years. Maine voters approved the first New England medical marijuana initiative in 1999, and the Vermont legislature passed a similar measure in 2004. Rhode Island followed in 2006, and is now one of the few states in the country to allow registered marijuana dispensaries. Both Massachusetts and Connecticut approved similar reforms in 2012, and both will actually be distributing marijuana at licensed dispensaries.
With all of this in mind, it is not surprising that full legalization of the cannabis industry is already being seriously considered by some New England authorities. Legal regulation of the industry was actually voted down in New Hampshire in March of this year, and a more modest decriminalization proposal was defeated in the state Senate in May. However, legalization bills were introduced in January of this year in Massachusetts, in February in Rhode Island and in March in Vermont. A recent amendment to a bill in the Maine House of Representatives, which would have put legalization of the plant to a referendum, narrowly failed earlier this month, but the bill itself is still under consideration. We should expect the reforms pioneered in Colorado and Washington to spread to New England soon.