A bill to legalize the personal use, cultivation and gifting of marijuana in New Hampshire is one step closer to becoming law. The state House of Representatives on Thursday approved the legislation on a 236-112 vote, advancing the measure to the Senate.
The proposal would not legalize commercial production or sales of cannabis. Instead, adults 21 and older would be allowed to grow a limited number of plants at home and legally give up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana to other adults. The measure resembles neighboring Vermont’s 2018 cannabis law, which legalized low-level possession and home cultivation but does not allow for sales.
Legalization is tremendously popular in the famously independent state, as one lawmaker acknowledged before a House committee voted last month to advance the bill to the floor.
“I think that the legalization of cannabis is more popular than the legislature itself or the governor or any other political entity in the state of New Hampshire,” House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Chairman Renny Cushing (D) said. “This is something that the people of the state of New Hampshire want. They don’t want to be treated like they’re criminals if they have a plant.”
A full tax-and-regulate marijuana legalization bill was passed by the House last year. But after receiving a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, it ultimately stalled and died in the chamber. Advocates believe the new scaled-down approach has a better shot of being enacted.
The current bill has sponsors from both sides of the aisle, but even if it’s passed by the legislature, it could still be vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who has said he opposes commercial legalization and has killed other cannabis bills in the past. He signed a limited decriminalization measure into law in 2017, but last year vetoed a bill to allow medical marijuana patients to grow the plant at home.
The state Senate earlier this month signed off on a new effort to allow medical cannabis homegrow, but its path ahead remains uncertain. The body narrowly failed to override the governor’s veto of the 2019 version.
Cushing told Marijuana Moment in an interview last month that legislators “don’t know how the governor will respond” to the adult-use legalization measure if the bill makes it to his desk.
Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment that with the House’s passage, the bill now faces “a more difficult challenge” before the Senate. But given the strong public support for legalization, he said, it’s time for lawmakers to move.
“It makes no sense for the ‘Live Free or Die’ state to continue punishing adults for growing and possessing cannabis,” he said. “The Senate should join the House in passing HB 1648, and Governor Sununu should recognize that it’s time to bring New Hampshire’s cannabis laws more nearly into line with neighboring states.”
The legislation, HB 1648, says that allowing residents to “cultivate their own limited supply of cannabis will provide them with an alternative to buying cannabis from illicit drug dealers.” Adults over 21 years of age would be able to grow six plants, with three being mature, flowering plants. People who possess more than the allowed three-fourths of an ounce of marijuana would be subject to a misdemeanor charge.
Lawmakers approved a floor amendment clarifying that consuming cannabis in public is prohibited and is punishable by a fine of not more than $100.
If New Hampshire’s marijuana legalization proposal does become law, it could open the door to later commercial sales. That process is unfolding next door in Vermont, where lawmakers are considering expanding the current policy allowing possession and home cultivation by passing a bill to establish a commercial marijuana industry subject to taxes and state oversight. A recent MPP survey found 76 percent of Vermont residents are in favor of allowing adults to purchase marijuana “from regulated, taxpaying small businesses.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images