Connect with us


New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Annulment And Resentencing Bill As Governor Weighs In On Pending Legalization Proposal



House lawmakers in New Hampshire passed a marijuana annulment and resentencing bill on Thursday, on the heels of new comments from Gov. Chris Sununu (R) about a marijuana legalization bill headed for a key vote next week.

The annulment legislation, HB 1539 from Rep. Jonah Wheeler (D), passed the House of Representatives in a bipartisan 283-80 vote. If it becomes law, it would create an automatic annulment process for all cannabis possession violations and misdemeanors for which sentences are complete, and people incarcerated for cannabis-related crimes would be automatically resentenced.

Annulments for broader cannabis-related offenses, meanwhile, would be available through a petition process once an individual has completed their sentence.

Advocates at the Marijuana Policy Project, which backs the measure, said in an email to supporters that the bill “would set a new bar for cannabis justice, and create a state-initiated process to erase life-altering records and release cannabis prisoners.”

Meanwhile, regarding marijuana legalization, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) told reporters this week he hasn’t moved “too too much” from where he stood on the issue last year, when he sent a list of must-have provisions to a state commission charged with crafting a bill to enact the reform. Some members of the state commission said at the time that the governor’s last-minute demands derailed the body’s work.

Some senators have warned that the legalization bill in its current form would be dead on arrival in their chamber, because it departs from a state-run franchise model that has the support of Sununu. But many in the House committee currently considering HB 1633 nevertheless opted at a hearing Wednesday to go with the so-called agency store approach proposed by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R).

Layon has said over the course of the past several weeks that she’s tried to sit down with the governor in an effort to address any concerns and try to win his support for her plan. But she said she’s consistently been unable to meet with his office on the issue.

Meanwhile Rep. Dan McGuire (R) told the House Finance Committee this week that his proposed amendment to Layon’s bill—which members of the panel rejected—resulted from him meeting “personally” with the governor.

Speaking to reporters, Sununu said on Wednesday that he told lawmakers “exactly what I wanted to see about a year ago” from legalization legislation.

Among his listed requirements last year were that the state marijuana system resemble New Hampshire’s state-run Liquor Commission, that no more than 15 retail stores operate statewide, that lobbying and political participation by the industry be barred and that marketing and advertising to children be strictly prohibited.

“I really haven’t wavered from that too too much as some of the senators have come back with different ideas—not completely different ideas but, you know, how things would actually be written, the stipulations I am looking for, how that would be written into the bill, some of the legal issues around this or that, whatever it is,” the governor said, according to a report from InDepthNH. “So, I am always happy to talk with them and work with them, and my sense is they have been forming a bill, that, you know, could get through, but it’s got to get through.”

Lawmakers aligned with the governor have modified his preferred state-run approach into a franchise model, under which the state would control the look, feel and general workings of the 15 stores, though they’d be run by private operators. That model was considered by the state commission on legalization, though that body ultimately failed to agree on legalization language by its deadline last year. McGuire’s recently rejected amendment would have replaced the bill’s current language with text more closely resembling the discussed franchise model.

Regarding criticisms from some advocates—including the state’s existing medical marijuana providers, known as alternative treatment centers (ATCs)—that the alternative plan from McGuire would fail to integrate the state’s medical marijuana program into the new system, Sununu seemed to downplay the concerns.

“Nothing really changes with those. I understand they want to corner the market, so to say, and have a monopoly on that,” he said. But he noted that the state is also working to expand medical marijuana accessibility so patients “get what they need.”

“We’re not shutting down dispensaries,” he said.

McGuire said at Wednesday’s House hearing that even though he didn’t agree with everything in his amendment, it was necessary in order to get legalization across the finish line this year.

“We are told from the governor and from our contacts in the Senate that this is what they want: the franchise model,” he said. “We are also told they will not vote for the version the House passed, and we are told that they are either unwilling or incapable of making significant changes in the Senate.”

“If we want to see a bill passed—and I’m not sure that everybody does, but for those of us who do—I think we should pass this amendment,” he urged colleagues, who nevertheless voted down the changes.

Layon herself also offered amendments at Wednesday’s hearing, which the panel passed 8–1. One change would clarify that ATCs would be able to continue cultivating medical marijuana and could sell both medical and adult-use cannabis products at the same locations.

Another change would restructure the bill to separate what Layon calls “operational” control over stores from what she calls “regulatory” control.

She described the agency store model as a system “where the state requires agreement and compliance from private businesses granted limited licenses by the Liquor Commission beyond the traditional health and safety regulatory role of government.”

Her amendment divides those two roles—regulation and broader operational control—and says that they’re severable. That means that if the federal government decides to go after the state for its day-to-day oversight of the industry, as Layon and others have warned could happen, the state could still preserve its regulatory authority over cannabis businesses. The change would also allow lawmakers in future years to shift away from the agency store model toward a more traditional private marketplace.

“At least if we have these clear lines between the operational control and the regulatory control, there’s an opportunity for the state to pivot if we’ve adopted the wrong model,” she said.

Committee staff will use the coming days to combine and incorporate Layon’s amendment with another set of changes from the finance subcommittee chair, Rep. Peter Leishman (D), along with an adjustment to eliminate the possibility of jail time for a second offense consuming cannabis in public.

The full House Finance Committee is set to return to the bill Monday and vote on the revised plan.

Whether the decision to steer clear of a franchise model will ultimately derail the proposal, however, is yet to be seen.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

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 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.

Where Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Stands On Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

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.


Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.