John Toole, Union Leader
CONCORD, New Hampshire — House lawmakers yesterday stunned law enforcers by giving initial approval to a bill legalizing the hemp industry in New Hampshire. Opponents said they would seek to overturn the House decision as soon as this afternoon, while law enforcement officials vowed to renew their fight against the bill.
“I can’t believe it. What a sad state of affairs,” Concord Police Chief William Halacy said. “Law enforcement will continue to fight this thing.” Hampton Police Chief William Wrenn said he was “disappointed” by the House action.
“We certainly don’t feel this legislation serves any legitimate purpose,” Wrenn said. “We don’t feel this should be legal.” Law enforcement officials oppose legalization of hemp because the plant is a relative of marijuana, although it has a lower content of THC, the chemical that gives pot smokers a high.
The House Environment and Agriculture Committee had recommended study for House Bill 239, permitting development of an industrial hemp industry. But the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Derek Owen, D Hopkinton, convinced the House to reject study, 176-172, and instead pass the bill, 181-167. The bill is now expected to move to the House Finance Committee and would face a second House vote later.
But Rep. Tony Soltani, R-Epsom, said opponents could ask the House to reconsider the vote this afternoon.
“We might move for reconsideration (Thursday) or wait until it comes back from Finance and fight it,” Soltani said.
“Legalizing this stuff sets a bad example for our children,” Soltani told House lawmakers during debate. But Rep. Amy Robb-Theroux, D-Claremont, argued the merits of hemp as a cash crop for New Hampshire growers.
“This bill is about money,” Robb-Theroux said, noting Canada growers reaped more than $16 million in the first year after legalization.
Supporters disputed law enforcement views. “This is not a drug you can smoke and get high,” Robb Theroux said. Deputy state Safety Commissioner John Stephen said law enforcers will continue to press their case at the Legislature in opposing the bill.
“There will be a new hearing in the Senate. We will do the best we can,” Stephen said. “It is marijuana, that’s what it is,” Stephen said. “We’ll continue to state our case.”
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