Democratic primary could break logjam on legal weed in New Hampshire  

For supporters of legalization, Tuesday’s primary offers one way to draw meaningful distinctions between the frontrunners

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New Hampshire has been in the middle of a legalization logjam on marijuana since a bipartisan bill that would have legalized weed a la Colorado stalled in the legislature in 2013. Tuesday’s Democratic primary in the Live Free Or Die state could finally break the stalemate.

While legal weed is overwhelmingly popular in the state – 68 per cent favour legalization – Republican Governor Chris Sununu has blocked every effort to legalize it. That includes a bill that has been kicking around the legislature since early 2019.

Last January, polls showed that legalizing weed is the third most important issue among Democratic voters in the state. With Tuesday’s primary set to anoint a frontrunner in the race, New Hampshire voters could finally push cannabis policy into the spotlight.

Tulsi Gabbard, a decidedly long-shot candidate, has been trying to use weed as an issue to drum up votes, appearing at a legalization roundtable while she campaigns in the state ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

For the single-issue legalization voter, cannabis offers one way to draw meaningful distinctions between the frontrunners. And going into New Hampshire it’s a contest between Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg with Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden close behind.

Buttigieg’s legalization plan is actually a decriminalization plan. It exists mostly as a footnote within a larger criminal justice reform platform. That would see the U.S. “end the use of incarceration as a response” to drug possession, the candidate explained during Friday’s debate.

But he has conspicuously avoided throwing his full weight behind legalization. He has made comments suggesting he doesn’t want to see California’s system expanded nationwide. On Friday, he said that his plan “does not mean that it will be lawful to produce or distribute those kinds of harmful drugs.”

Buttigieg’s record, however, has drawn criticism. During the debate, it was noted that while he was mayor of South Bend, racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests increased. And they have not gone down as of last year.

Sanders, meanwhile, supports both the immediate de-scheduling of marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which regulates hard drugs, and the “permanent legalization of marijuana.”

It’s not clear whether Sanders envisions a national-level regulatory system like Canada’s. But his platform suggests that he would regulate weed at the federal level. That would seem to offer a clearer way to bust the opposition posed by Republican governors and their vetoes. His plan would also use tax revenues from cannabis for a variety of initiatives aimed at repairing the harms from the war on drugs.

Warren supports legalizing weed, too. Her home state of Massachusetts actually has legal weed. She’s also signed her name to bills that would make it easier for states to legalize on their own.

Her platform also focuses on racial disparities in marijuana convictions. The fine print of where legal weed might be sold is less clear.

Biden’s cannabis policy, on the other hand, is stuck in 1953. At a stop in New Hampshire last week, Biden told the Marijuana Policy Project that, “I think it is at the point where it has to be, basically, legalized.”

However, Biden had to walk back claims cannabis a “gateway drug” earlier this year. He’s also said he doesn’t think there isn’t enough research to support legalization.

While it won’t be the dominant narrative, Tuesday is a crucial vote for the cannabis community.

Whoever wins will almost surely head into Nevada with the label of frontrunner around their neck. That may be enough to essentially decide who the nominee will be. And what cannabis policy the Democrats take into November’s general election.

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