New Hampshire GOP And Democratic House Leaders Team Up On Marijuana Legalization Bill For 2023
The Democratic and Republican leaders of the New Hampshire House of Representatives announced on Monday that they will be jointly filing a bill to legalize marijuana for the 2023 session—a bipartisan effort that’s backed by key advocacy and industry stakeholder groups.
House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R) and Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm (D) are sponsoring the legalization bill, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and gift up to four ounces of cannabis and grow up to six plants (three of which could be mature) for personal use.
Republicans held on to the both the House and Senate after last month’s election, and the latter chamber is where marijuana reform has faced its toughest obstacles in past sessions. The Senate rejected two House-passed reform bills earlier this year, including one that would have create a non-commercial cannabis program and another providing for commerce under a state-run model.
The legislature might still be under GOP control by similar margins next session, but the Senate did see some shifts that favor reform. For example, a Democratic senator who opposed legalization efforts was replaced by a Republican who voted in favor of ending prohibition during his time as a House member.
Overall, advocates are encouraged by the developing dynamics and the fact that bipartisan House leadership is now collaborating on legalization, signaling that it is viewed as a priority that could help break the blockade in the Senate next year.
“The New Hampshire Senate may appear to be an immovable object, but this bill has the potential to develop into an irresistible force,” Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire, told Marijuana Moment on Monday. “I’m very encouraged to see House leaders uniting behind this thoughtful, comprehensive approach to cannabis policy.”
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Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who was reelected last month, remains opposed to legalization—but his more recent comments on the issue seem to show a softening of his position. He said during a debate last month that reform “could be inevitable,” but he added that states need to “be patient about how you do it.”
According to a summary, the forthcoming legislation would establish a Cannabis Commission, with officials appointed by the governor, to develop rules, regulate the program and issue marijuana business licenses. A 13-member advisory board would assist the commission.
The bill will also take specific steps to reduce barriers to entry for military veterans, small farmers and people who have been disproportionately impacted by criminalization. That would include lower licensing fees and prioritized scoring for licensing applications.
It would also create a Cannabis Business Development Fund designed to support “outreach, provide start-up funding, and provide training and other technical assistance” for those groups.
The plan is to facilitate a gradual, deliberate transition for New Hampshire’s existing medical marijuana program. The commission, with the assistance of the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), would be responsible for developing a transition proposal within 20 months of the bill’s enactment, and implementing that plan would require further legislative action through a separate measure.
Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be able to apply for serve adult consumers if they meet key requirements such as ensuring that patients’ access is prioritized and price hikes are avoided. Those alternative treatment centers (ATCs) would also be able to convert to a for-profit model.
Adult-use marijuana products would be subject to an 8.5 percent Meals and Rooms Tax. Annual application renewal fees would be capped at $1,000 for the state and $500 for the individual municipality where the business is located. The annual licensing fee would range from up to $250 for small cultivators to a maximum of $10,000 for larger licensees.
Revenue from those taxes and fees would go toward unfunded pension liabilities (70 percent) until that need is met, after which point it would be reserved for an education trust fund and property tax relief.
The remaining 30 percent would be divided up between a new substance misuse treatment fund (10 percent), support for veterans, small farmers and impacted communities, as well as justice reinvestment programs like job training and legal aid (10 percent), funding for municipalities that allow at least one cannabis business (5 percent) and public safety agencies (5 percent).
Past cannabis possession convictions would be automatically annulled under the proposal, and a sentence-review process for marijuana cases would be established. Anyone with a cannabis conviction on their record could petition for annulment. Pending possession cases that would be made legal for adults 21 and older would be dismissed.
The possession and cultivation components of the legislation would take effect immediately upon enactment. Regulators would have one year to develop rules for cultivators and ATC hybrid licensees, and the remaining rules would be due after 15 months.
Notably, the legislation stipulates that “state-legal cannabis-related business expenses are deductible,” the summary says, referring to deductions at the state-level, as the federal 280E provision prevents such tax relief for marijuana businesses as long as prohibition is in place.
While individual localities would be able to set their own rules for the market, or outright ban cannabis businesses from operating in their area, they could not prohibit deliveries.
All told, the bill seems to incorporate provisions designed to appeal to a wide range of interests and ideologies. And advocates are cautiously optimistic that, combined with the fact that it’s being spearheaded by bipartisan House leaders, this could finally open the door in the Senate.
“This proposal to legalize cannabis for adults in New Hampshire brings together diverse nonpartisan perspectives,” Osborne, who cosponsored the earlier state-run legalization bill, said in a press release on Monday. “This bill brings a solution to pay off our pension liability, reduce property taxes, provide additional resources for law enforcement, while restricting minors from accessing cannabis.”
“The House has long stood united in finding a pathway to getting this done for Granite Staters,” he said. “With any luck, the Senate will come around to supporting the will of the vast majority of New Hampshire citizens.”
The Democratic leader, Wilhelm, said that it’s “long past time that New Hampshire stops wasting scarce tax dollars and valuable local and state policing resources by continuing a restriction that has failed for decades and needlessly ruined the lives of many young and poor Granite Staters.”
“By legalizing cannabis, New Hampshire can stop squandering tax dollars and instead provide a significant source of new revenue to fund critical health and law enforcement programs while lowering local property taxes,” he said. “New Hampshire remains the only state in New England that has failed to legalize recreational cannabis, while our neighbors benefit from increased revenue and their cannabis users benefit from safer testing and regulation of the product. Legalization of adult possession of small amounts of cannabis is the right thing to do for New Hampshire and we must get it done in 2023.”
The legislation is also being endorsed by Americans for Prosperity—New Hampshire (AFP-NH), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Cannabis Association, Prime ATC and Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
MPP Director of State Policies Karen O’Keefe said that prohibition “has been just as disastrous a policy failure as alcohol prohibition was a century ago, but it has persisted far longer and inflicted far more harm.”
“It is past time the Granite State join its neighbors and take a more modern approach to cannabis,” she said. “This bipartisan coalition bill includes strong public health protections, annulment and sentencing review for past convictions, and provisions to ensure mom and pop businesses can succeed. We hope to see it become law this year.”
“Sold to the public in the name of public safety, New Hampshire’s marijuana laws needlessly ensnare over a thousand people—disproportionately Black people—in its criminal justice system every year,” ACLU NH Policy Director Frank Knaack said. “New Hampshire’s war on marijuana does not make us safer, wastes taxpayer dollars, is enforced with a staggering racial bias, and ruins lives—it’s time for it to end.”
AFP-NH Deputy State Director Ross Connolly said that “New Hampshire is an island of cannabis prohibition,” and this “coalition has taken lessons learned from surrounding states and created the best model for taxed, regulated, and legal retail cannabis that protects consumers and minors while out-competing our neighbors.”
After the Senate rejected two reform bills in April, 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 following month.
The non-commercial legalization measure that was defeated had previously passed the House under Democratic control in 2020 but was defeated in the Senate at the committee stage.
Three lawmakers—Reps. Joshua Adjutant (D), Renny Cushing (D) and Andrew Prout (R)—each filed separate bills to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot. But the House defeated Prout’s proposed constitutional amendment and voted to table the two other measures.
Read the summary of the bipartisan House legalization bill that’s being filed for 2023 below:
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