Marijuana Legalization Bill Has 'No Chance' in New Hampshire This Year

The state's lower house voted 170-162 Wednesday to legalize pot, but the governor and state senate are roadblocks.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., speaks to a Senate Committee on plans to bring casino gambling to the state, Feb. 19, 2013 in Concord, N.H.
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New Hampshire's House of Representatives endorsed marijuana legalization Wednesday, but that doesn't mean the state will be the third to legalize pot.

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Republican sponsoring the legalization bill, tells U.S. News the state will not adopt his proposal in 2014.

That's because the bill faces two major hurdles: Opposition from the state's governor and non-existent support in the New Hampshire Senate.

"I would compare the marijuana struggle in New Hampshire to the New England Patriots, we're moving the ball down the field gaining chunks of yardage and we're going to hit the end zone eventually," Vaillancourt says, "[but] it's not going to be with this bill."

[RELATED: New Hampshire House Votes to Legalize Pot]

Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., has promised to veto the bill, but Vaillancourt says "there is virtually no chance this bill will even get to the governor's desk."

Not one member of the 24-person state Senate has endorsed the bill, he says.

State House members voted 170-162 in favor of legalization Wednesday. The bill was then referred to a second House committee to resolve taxation and regulatory issues, and will face a second House vote before going to the Senate.

Democrats voted 106-83 in favor, but Republicans leaned against the bill 64-79.

[CHARTS: ACLU Breaks Down Demographics of Pot Busts]

Vaillancourt says it's unlikely Hassan will make a pivot on marijuana as her predecessor, Gov. John Lynch, D-N.H., did with same-sex marriage. Lynch opposed allowing gay couples to marry before a bill legalizing same-sex marriage passed the state legislature in 2009.

"Governor Lynch was worn down by some of his personal friends," Vaillancourt says. "I'm not going to lie to you, I don't think we're going to wear this governor down on this issue."

Rather, he says, a decriminalization bill may pass as a compromise this year. He's optimistic legalization will become law in around five years.

Hassan "is definitely getting inundated with phone calls and emails," says Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, "but there's not a lot of hope about changing her mind this year."

[READ: Pot Opponents Predict 'Hogwild' Colorado Trainwreck]

Legalization "has no realistic chance of passing and becoming law this year," Simon says. "Our hope is that we're able to continue the conversation into the Senate and use it as an educational vehicle going into election year."

Simon expects the bill to face "a difficult audience" in the state Senate, noting that chamber has blocked four decriminalization bills since 2008. He hopes voters will toss legislators who oppose legalization in November and that 2015 will be the breakthrough year.

Erica Golter, director of New Hampshire NORML – the state chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws – is more optimistic about the bill's chances in 2014, pointing to broad support among state residents.

A WMUR Granite State Poll conducted Oct. 1-7 found 60 percent support among New Hampshire residents for the legalization bill, and only 36 percent opposition. Support was highest among Democrats, at 78 percent, and among men, at 68 percent.

[POLL: 58 Percent of Americans Say Legalize Pot]

"Our ideal campaign [to change Hassan's position] is not going to be aggressive," Golter says. "It's clear to me she's just not aware of the benefits of cannabis."

Among the arguments pro-legalization legislators made Wednesday was that the state would earn millions of dollars in taxes, save millions of dollars on enforcement, deprive violent gangs of revenue, generate tourism and reduce the consumption by teens by drying up the current black market.

Opponents said consumption would increase, as would driving under the influence, and claimed the drug would become more available to children.

Vaillancourt's bill would replicate the marijuana-regulation model currently used by Colorado, allowing possession of 1 ounce and six plants by adults over 21. State-licensed stores would open in the state.