A New Hampshire House lawmaker says that he’s defecting from the Republican party to become in an independent—in part because of his frustration over the Senate’s repeated refusal to approve marijuana legalization.
Rep. Dan Hynes said on Tuesday that he is leaving the GOP because he feels the party has lost touch with its founding principles, including promoting “individual freedom.”
Among his specific contentions is that “Republicans in the senate almost unanimously voted against legalizing marijuana for adults” this session, referencing a House-passed cannabis reform bill sponsored by bipartisan leadership.
“It is clear they are out of touch with the overwhelming majority of their constituents, and that they do not respect or advocate for personal freedom,” Hynes said in a Facebook post announcing his decision.
He also criticized Republican legislators over votes related to the budget and controversial transgender children’s rights legislation.
In a phone interview with Marijuana Moment on Wednesday, the lawmaker said that it’s “unfortunate” that some GOP members opposed the canna bis legalization bill in the Senate when they previously backed reform while serving in the House.
He also noted that the governor’s prior opposition to any form of legalization may have influenced some members to vote down the cannabis legalization bill. And then when Gov. Chris Sununu (R) surprisingly endorsed a state-run marijuana system, that added to the complexity, with certain Republicans considering it undue government overreach.
Hynes would prefer a more conventional legalization model of licensed private businesses, and he expressed some concerns about the potential legal ramifications of having state employees overseeing retail cannabis sales under federal prohibition.
“Yes, the feds would probably look the other way. Or maybe it would force the feds’ hand. That’d be great,” he said. “But I just can’t see getting the state involved with something that’s really illegal. It doesn’t make sense to go about it that way.”
Asked what message he hoped to send by changing his party affiliation and raising attention to these issues, Hynes said, “broadly, I would like to see people voting their conscience as opposed to what leadership tells people to do.”
“I mean, the polls as it relates to marijuana in New Hampshire, a significant majority wants legalization,” he said. “I would like to see people essentially doing what they believe is best and vote their conscience.”
“But I mean, at the end of the day, I think it’s inevitable that New Hampshire does it. We do make progress,” he said. “So we’ll continue to do so, and I think the governor is going to be the main factor. If we get a governor in there who wants to reform, I expect that we get done.”
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As far as marijuana reform is concerned in New Hampshire this year, however, it appears that the legislature is at an impasse.
Following the commercial legalization defeat in the Senate, the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee attempted to craft a compromise that would have provided for a multitiered system of state-controlled stores, privately operated agency shops and dual-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries. But while members plan to return to the issue later this year, it’s not expected to potentially advance until the beginning of 2024.
An earlier House-passed bill to legalize through the state model was unanimously defeated in the Senate last year. But since the Senate approved separate legislation last month to create a study commission to examine potential legalization models, it seems there will be more robust discussion about ending prohibition in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, the House separately defeated a different marijuana legalization amendment that was being proposed as part of a Medicaid expansion bill last month.
Also, the Senate moved to table another piece of legislation last 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 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.