When Primary Sources Get It Wrong on Public Policy

As cannabis laws are rapidly changing across the country – medical, recreational, and otherwise – it is becoming more and more difficult to keep track of each state’s laws. Typically we rely on the big policy guys at the forefront to properly interpret complicated legal codes and dish out an accurate summary. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. People who like to do their own research will visit sites like Legiscan, and people who really like to do their own research on state laws will go directly to the states’ legislation pages. So what happens when they all say something different?

Recently, New Hampshire decriminalized lesser amounts of cannabis for personal use. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML) were both quick to report on the issue. One article from NORML tried to put the changes into a chart, which is usually a good bet, but looking at this one in particular seems more confusing than just a quick overview. Then the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) put out an article which did in fact provide an overview, but failed to include any citations for what they were saying. Both, however, reported that cannabis was decriminalized at ¾ ounce or lower for personal use. So let’s go from there.

We decided to delve a little deeper and use Legiscan. Legiscan is a free government resource that reports on local, state, and federal laws at all levels of legislation. It is THE resource to use when looking up this kind of iniformation. They track bills at various stages, from introduction to passing in House or Senate to signed in to law officially. When we looked up House Bill 640-FN we found that the bill, at first glance, seems to have been passed saying that up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use was decriminalized. We were justifiably confused at this point.

So we reached out directly to the lawmakers, something that most people don’t tend to do. As important as it is, most people understandably don’t have the time, the effort, or the knowledge to do so. We got back an official statement from one of the sponsors of the bill, Rep. Rock Cushing:

“It is 3/4 of an ounce. The original version passed by the House was one ounce, the Senate reduced the amount to 3/4, which the House agreed to in the final version passed by both House and Senate and signed into law by Governor.”

-Representative Robert Renny Cushing

All-in-all, it seems as though the first places we turned to (NORML and MPP) were correct. But the problem is that they didn’t adequately cite their sources. Looking into the issue further resulted in contradictory information from a reliable primary source and required even further investigation. It took personally messaging a state representative to get a properly informed statement on the issue.

Moving forward, we hope this stands as a reminder that it is exceedingly difficult to have an informed opinion on public policy. When it comes to our ever-changing and never-simple legal environment, never take what you initially see at face value and don’t be wary of getting in contact with your elected officials directly when even the primary sources get it wrong.