Lawmaker wants to legalize marijuana

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Using and selling marijuana would be legal under a bill debated by state legislators.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Charles Weed of Keene, told colleagues Wednesday that legalizing marijuana would give police more resources to tackle violent crime.

He also said that existing laws governing marijuana are too harsh and lead to users being jailed with people who use or sell much more dangerous drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.

“If people are convicted for soft-drug use, they’re in a problem for the rest of their lives,” Weed, a Democrat, told the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The bill is co-sponsored by two Republicans: Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, of Manchester, and Rep. Paul Ingbretson, of Pike. Weed and Ingbretson are also sponsoring bills to legalize medical marijuana use and allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, which is not a drug.

Vaillancourt called marijuana possession a “victimless crime” and said the drug is less harmful than legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

However, even some advocates said the bill goes too far. Matt Simon, a spokesman for the Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, said it should be amended, although the group is collecting signatures in support of the bill.

“The way it is now, you could grow a field of marijuana, drive it across into Massachusetts,” he said. “This is a place to start the discussion of what the best way is to change the policies.”

Similar proposals have failed before. The attorney general’s office and state health officials oppose the bill, along with groups representing police chiefs and county sheriffs.

State police Maj. David Kelly said marijuana use often leads to people trying harder drugs. “Decriminalization will come at the expense of society, of public safety, of children and of you,” he said.

Simon Brown, head of the attorney general’s criminal justice bureau, said police resources would be further stretched by legalization, not decreased, as supporters argued. He also said marijuana use has been shown by researchers to impair driving and can even lead to violence.

But police Officer Bradley Jardis, speaking on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a national group the supports legalization of marijuana, questioned the link to violence.

“In my experience, I’ve never gone to a fight call or domestic violence call where it’s only because of marijuana,” he said.

He also cited federal statistics showing that marijuana use has never been a primary cause of death.

State Health and Human Services offficials say about 10 percent of state residents use marijuana, with higher numbers among teenagers and young adults.

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