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New Hampshire Committee Advances Amended Marijuana Legalization Bill To House Floor



During a brief executive session on Wednesday, New Hampshire’s House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee approved to a bill that would legalize and regulate marijuana in the state, moving the measure forward despite ongoing concerns over how Gov. Chris Sununu (R) will greet the bill.

Committee members voted 17–3 to advance HB 1633, which next heads to the House floor.

The panel did not discuss the proposal in depth before taking action during executive session. Members adopted two small changes offered by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R), then proceeded to vote on the amended bill.

One change removed a reference to a memo from Sununu’s office about the governor’s legalization priorities, which had been included in earlier versions of the bill’s purpose and intent section. “That was an oversight on my end,” Layon said. “I really shouldn’t be naming anybody within the purpose and intent.”

The other removed a provision that would have sent 15 percent of state marijuana tax revenue to the state’s pension fund. “The idea of not entangling any other federal agencies into cannabis within New Hampshire is a good argument not to have the pensions receiving any money,” the sponsor said, “and there’s a lot of reticence from people to have their pension funds paid by cannabis funds.”

That 15 percent portion would instead be added to the state’s Education Trust Fund.

“I know our schools need it and the kids need it, so hopefully that change is acceptable,” Layon said.

Since introducing the bill earlier this year, Layon has worked with members of a state commission convened last year to recommend legalization legislation—which failed to arrive at a consensus by a deadline last December—as well as lawmakers in the Senate who’ve dominated the legalization discussion.

Rep. John Hunt (R), who chairs the House committee that approved the bill on Wednesday, initially warned Layon that if she didn’t get support from counterparts in the Senate, the proposal would be dead on arrival.

A number of other changes offered by Layon in subcommittee prior to the full panel’s action adjusted matters such as licensing of existing medical marijuana operators, tax allocations and penalties for smoking cannabis in public.

Rep. Anita Burroughs (D) said before that vote that the bill is “not 100 percent of what anybody wants,” but warned that the state is “taking a crapshoot if we don’t pass it this year” given the election in November.

Layon’s proposal would license and regulate 15 marijuana retailers across the state—a limit that Sununu suggested in a memo last year that he wouldn’t budge on. However, her plan departs from the governor’s preferred state-run model for retail sales—as well as a modified franchise model considered by the state commission that ultimately failed late last year.

Layon has said those two models involve significant government oversight of marijuana retailers’ day-to-day operations, which could pose legal risk and financial liability to the state.

The 15 licensed stores would begin opening about two years after the bill’s passage, according to the latest available version of the measure. After an initial 30-month period, regulators would then reassess on an annual basis whether more stores were needed.

Unlike in most states, general purpose advertising would be banned outright, including on billboards and social media. Layon has said advertisements on marijuana-specific platforms like Weedmaps, however, would be allowed in order to allow consumers to find the stores.

Companies could not use slang to promote marijuana or encourage overconsumption, for example through the use of a logo showing someone with bloodshot eyes. And regulators could limit business names and other marketing.

The plan includes a narrow allowance for for certain vaporization devices, though it also allows regulators to prohibit “types of vaporizers that are particularly likely to be utilized by minors without detection.” It specifies that regulators may not ban “or unreasonably restrict” vaporizers categorically, however.

Layon’s proposal would further allow people to petition to have past criminal records annulled if the charges were for possession of less than what’s legal after the change. The lawmaker said earlier this month she’s been in discussions with ACLU representatives on the issue.

ACLU of New Hampshire Executive Director Devon Chaffee said earlier this week that she opposes how the latest changes to the bill would penalize public consumption of marijuana, however. Specifically, third and subsequent offenses for public consumption could be charged as a misdemeanor, which carries jail time.

“The idea that we would be criminalizing nonviolent activity that right now is not criminalized through passage of the marijuana legalization law,” she told the subcommittee, “I think does not make sense.”

Nevertheless, as the bill moves forward, some observers say they’re grateful for the leadership Layon has demonstrated in bringing together people with different views.

“Overall I think this bill’s in a much better place than I could have imagined a few weeks ago,” Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at medical marijuana provider GraniteLeaf Cannabis, told Marijuana Moment. “Rep. Layon has done an outstanding job talking to all the stakeholders, talking to senators, trying to talk to the governor’s office.”

“She spent a lot of time and effort on this,” he added, “trying to understand what the study commission wanted and trying to understand what potential objections are…and trying to come up with a compromise that can actually find the sweet spot.”

Simon said he still has issues with how the bill would address existing medical operators, known in the state as alternative treatment centers (ATCs), but is optimistic those can be hammered out down the road.

One issue is that the current bill envisions allowing ATCs engaging in adult-use retail sales but does not include similar provisions around cultivation or manufacturing products. “That’s pretty important to the ATCs, that we be able to use our existing production facilities to produce for both markets,” Simon said.

It’s possible that process could be clarified as the bill proceeds this session, although Simon pointed to a provision in the measure that would also direct state agencies to develop draft legislation by later this year on how to regulate both medical and adult-use systems.

During last year’s study commission, members seemed inclined to have the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) continue overseeing the medical marijuana patient registry and regulations, while the state Liquor Commission would regulate the adult-use system as well as business licensing for both markets.

Regardless, Simon said he expects the legalization bill to be received well on the House floor.

“I don’t know entirely what will happen when this gets to the other chamber, but it does appear to be strongly positioned to pass the House by a big margin,” he said. “Feels like we’re on a good track.”

(Disclosure: Simon supports Marijuana Moment’s work via a monthly Patreon pledge.)

The House has repeatedly passed legalization bills in recent sessions only to see them consistently stall in the Senate.

Lawmakers worked extensively on marijuana reform issues last session and attempted to reach a compromise to enact legalization through a multi-tiered system that would include state-controlled shops, dual licensing for existing medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses privately licensed to individuals by state agencies.

But the legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation, which was being considered following Sununu’s surprise announcement that he backed state-run legalization.

The Senate also defeated a more conventional legalization bill last year, HB 639, despite its bipartisan support.

In May, the House separately defeated a different marijuana legalization amendment that was being proposed as part of a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also moved to table another piece of legislation that month that would have allowed patients and designated caregivers to cultivate up to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings for personal therapeutic use.

After the Senate rejected the reform bills in 2022, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation—but that was also struck down in the opposite chamber.

The full House is expected to begin consideration of HB 1633 as soon as next week.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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