, Newburyport, MA

January 1, 2014

New laws take effect in N.H.

By Doug Ireland
Staff writer

---- — New Hampshire residents who want to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes will have to wait about a year before they light up.

Medical marijuana is legal in the state today, but it will take a year or more before dispensaries are in place.

That’s one of a number of laws taking effect today.

Motorists traveling along Interstate 93 from Canterbury to the Vermont border can give it a little extra gas. The speed limit on that stretch of highway has been raised to 70 mph.

Some bar patrons will be able to drink an hour later — if the town in which they’re imbibing opted to extend last call until 2 a.m.

But to Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, who once led the House Finance Committee, the most significant law passed in 2013 was the $10.7 billion, two-year state budget bill.

Weyler said lawmakers worked long and hard to craft a budget that funded the state’s needs — without putting a substantial burden on taxpayers.

“I thought the budget was a big improvement and that we didn’t do all the spending (that was proposed),” he said.

Weyler said he was troubled with two of the more significant laws passed by the Legislature last year.

He is concerned about the implementation of the new medical marijuana law. The approval of regulated dispensaries is expected to be a lengthy process, meaning it could take up to a year before marijuana is available to patients.

“I’m a little wary that it’s going to be problematic,” Weyler said.

Supporters included bill co-sponsor Rep. Debra DeSimone, R-Atkinson.

“This bill is not going to turn this state into a bunch of potheads,” she said previously.

Weyler also said he is bothered by the new law that allows towns and cities to decide if they want to extend last call at establishments from 1 to 2 a.m.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” Weyler said, adding it would put more drunken drivers on the road.

No Southern New Hampshire communities have embraced the change, he said.

That includes large communities such as Derry, Salem and Londonderry, which have numerous restaurants where alcohol is served.

Assistant Safety Commissioner Earl Sweeney said he’s concerned a later last call would lead to “border hopping” by people driving from town to town to get a drink, posing a threat to public safety.

Legislators also passed a law that requires children up to age 7 to use a child safety restraint in a vehicle until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall.

The previous law required their use by children up to age 6 and at least 4 feet 7 inches tall.

That brings New Hampshire into compliance with most other states, Sweeney said.

Another new law raises the speed limit by 5 mph on I-93 from Canterbury to the Vermont border. The one exception is a stretch through Franconia Notch.

What the new laws of 2014 didn’t usher in was expanded gambling and recreational use of marijuana.

Many Southern New Hampshire residents expressed support for a multi-million-dollar casino that would create several hundred jobs and generate much-needed revenue at Rockingham Park in Salem.

Marijuana proponents were disappointed with the defeat of legislation that would have legalized the recreational use of small amounts of the drug.

But new legislation calling for expanded gambling and recreational marijuana have been filed for this session, which begins a week from today.

The Legislature will also be grappling with plans to expand Medicaid for New Hampshire residents, Weyler said.