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New Hampshire Conference Committee Strikes Deal On Marijuana Legalization Just Ahead Of Deadline



Lawmakers from New Hampshire’s Senate and House of Representatives have reached a deal on a long-debated piece of legislation that would legalize marijuana for adults, advancing a compromise bill out of a bicameral conference committee on Thursday and returning the amended measure to both chambers for final up-or-down votes.

If majorities from both houses approve it, the bill would next go to Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who’s said in the past that while he does not personally support legalization, he sees the reform as inevitable and has indicated he will sign something like the current legislation, which is largely based on a Senate plan he endorsed.

Enactment would make New Hampshire the 25th U.S. state to legalize adult-use cannabis.

The panel previously met Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, but its seven members—three Senators and four House representatives—didn’t reach agreement until Thursday’s hearing, hours before a conference committee deadline.

As the final meeting opened, Sen. Tim Lang (R) unveiled a proposal from senators that incorporated some of the House members’ suggested changes from earlier in the week while modifying others.

The proposal amends a version of the legislation passed by the Senate last month. At the request of House lawmakers, it adds a representative from the state’s existing medical marijuana industry to the Cannabis Control Commission, which would have rulemaking authority over the regulated market. It also removes proposed penalties for a vehicle passenger’s consumption of cannabis in forms besides smoking and vaping. And it adjusts rules under which medical marijuana operators, known in New Hampshire as alternative treatment centers (ATCs), could transition from nonprofit to for-profit businesses.

Another key change would expand the state’s current decriminalization limit from three quarters of an ounce to one full ounce, effective immediately upon the bill’s passage. While possession wouldn’t become fully legal until 2026—at which point it would be limited to two ounces—the change would remove the risk of criminal penalties for people who might, for example, bring an ounce of marijuana legally purchased in a neighboring state back into New Hampshire. House members had pushed to decriminalize two ounces immediately, but senators were only willing to go up to one ounce prior to legalization taking effect.

After a nearly two-hour break, the conference reconvened and unanimously approved the bill.

Members from both the House and the Senate said they weren’t thrilled with the compromise but were nevertheless willing to sign off.

“I do want to be clear that…I’m signing this with a lot of angst and a lot of deliberation on my part, and I think some of my colleagues will feel the same way,” said Rep. Anita Burroughs (D), “However, I think that it’s time that we legalize cannabis, and I think that this is the right move.”

Senate President Jeb Bradley (R), who’s said repeatedly during the session that he personally opposes legalization, indicated that despite signing the conference committee report, he plans to vote against the final bill on the Senate floor.

“I’m gonna vote against it, but I am gonna sign off,” he told colleagues.

“The key element of it is he’s signing it for today,” added Rep. John Hunt (R).

The House and Senate now have until next Thursday, June 13, to vote on whether to send the negotiated proposal to the governor. It remains to be seen if a majority of House lawmakers will vote to approve the compromise that is largely based on a Senate bill they rejected in a floor vote last month.

For now, Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that she was pleased the conference committee fared better than skeptics had expected.

“I’m relieved and grateful that the Senate president negotiated in good faith on behalf of the Senate and did not kill HB 1633 despite his opposition to legalization,” she said in an email. “House members should be proud that they improved the bill to preserve the viability of dispensaries (ATCs) and to remove unnecessary criminalization. Now it’s time to get this past the finish line so the Live Free State can live up to its name.”

Based largely on language passed last month by the Senate, the revised measure, HB 1633, would allow allow 15 stores to open statewide beginning in 2026 through a novel state-run franchise system. Though stores would be privately run, the government would oversee operations, including setting final prices on products. Purchases would incur a 15 percent “franchise fee”—effectively a tax—that would apply to both adult-use and medical marijuana purchases.

Marijuana possession wouldn’t become legal until 2026, once the state’s licensed market is up and running. That same year, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana would become fully legal. In the meantime, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis would carry a $100 maximum civil fine.

The proposal would limit each municipality to only a single cannabis retail establishment unless it’s home to more than 50,000 people. Only two cities in the state, Manchester and Nashua, meet that threshold. Local voters would also need to pre-approve the industry in order for businesses to open in that jurisdiction.

Home cultivation of cannabis for personal use would remain illegal, and the state’s Liquor Commission would have the authority to enforce that provision.

Smoking or vaping marijuana in public would be a violation on the first offense and an misdemeanor for second or subsequent offenses within five years, a charge that could carry jail time. Consuming cannabis in other forms in public—for example, drinking a THC-infused beverage—would carry no punishment, unlike open container rules around alcohol.

For someone driving a car, the bill would outlaw consumption of cannabis by any means. Passengers would be forbidden from smoking or vaping cannabis. Driving under the influence of marijuana would remain a crime regardless of where the cannabis was consumed.

Sununu, for his part, has previously said that he would accept legislation based on the Senate-passed version of the bill—as long as House lawmakers make no major adjustments.

Going in to the conference committee, even some of the bill’s supporters predicted the bicameral panel would likely fail to reach a compromise.

For most of the session, they noted, Bradley himself had been vocally opposed to legalization, at one point saying that he hoped the bill would fail to even make it out of the Senate.

“The odds aren’t great,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R), told Marijuana Moment ahead of the first conference committee meeting. “I’m gonna go into it optimistic, but I don’t really expect much to come of it.”

Sen. Daryl Abbas (R), who chaired a state commission on legalization last year and introduced a sweeping Senate floor amendment last month that made major changes to Layon’s bill, also told Marijuana Moment before the panel met that he was “not optimistic” that the bill “would survive a committee of conference.”

By contrast, the version of the bill passed by the House in April would have legalize through a so-called “agency store” model preferred by sponsor Layon and colleagues in that chamber. Under that approach, the state would oversee a system of privately run stores, with strict limits on marketing and advertising. That version also included a higher personal possession limit of four ounces, and medical marijuana would be been exempt from the state surcharge. Further, personal possession would have become legal immediately.

Most legalization and criminal justice advocates preferred the House bill, though they did welcome some licensing provision changes in the Senate version.

New Hampshire 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. The legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation.

Bicameral lawmakers also convened the state commission tasked with studying legalization and proposing a path forward last year, though the group ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation.

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

Last May, the House defeated marijuana legalization language that was included in 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.

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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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