A New Hampshire legislative committee put its finishing touches on a revised bill to legalize marijuana and approved it on Wednesday.
Members of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Liquor Subcommittee have been working the legislation for weeks over a series of meetings, going back and forth about a variety of provisions and making amendments to the original measure that was filed by bipartisan House leaders.
The full committee accepted final amendments on Wednesday and passed the bill in a 17-3 vote.
A major change to the legislation from its introduced form would put the state’s existing Liquor Commission in charge of regulating the marijuana market, rather than create a new independent commission to do so, as was proposed in the original version of HB 639. The body would also be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Commission.
The panel also made a revision to add a mandate that marijuana testing be done by labs that are independent from companies that produce cannabis.
Advocates are disappointed that provisions allowing home grow and to annul prior cannabis convictions have been removed from the original bill, but it was viewed as a necessary compromise for the legislation to have a chance of being enacted this session.
The latest amendment released by Chairman John Hunt (R) on Wednesday also removes provisions to create a new advisory board that was supposed to serve as a check on the commission and gather public input on the cannabis law.
Hunt defended the revision from criticism, saying that he viewed it as an unnecessary level of bureaucracy and that the commission will have ample opportunities in rulemaking to receive input from experts and stakeholders.
Rather than impose a tax at the point of sale, the latest amendment also calls for a 15 percent tax to be levied at the cultivator level. Implementation deadlines were also pushed back in the latest version.
Another change removes the cap on what regulators could charge for most fees, for example stripping language that said application, registration and renewal fees for small growers could not exceed $250. Similar language with larger caps for bigger businesses was also deleted.
Here’s what HB 639 as amended would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older would be able to purchase, possess and gift up to four ounces of cannabis.
The newly renamed Liquor and Cannabis Commission would be responsible for regulating the marijuana market and issuing business licenses.
There would not be any statewide cap on the number of marijuana businesses that could be licensed.
Within 18 months of enactment, the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and commission would need to develop regulations allowing existing medical cannabis dispensaries to apply for dual licenses to start serving adult consumers.
Cannabis cultivators would be taxed at 15 percent of their monthly gross revenue.
Eighty percent of tax revenue would support an education trust fund, 10 percent will fund substance misuse treatment programs, five percent would go to localities that have at least one operational retailer and five percent (up to $1 million) would support public agencies like police and fire departments.
Localities could limit or ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area.
There would be employment protections for state or local government workers who use marijuana off the job. Professional and occupational licenses couldn’t be denied or withdrawn because a person uses cannabis.
Marijuana companies could deduct business expenses from their taxes at the state level.
There are no provisions to allow home cultivation or annul prior cannabis convictions.
The bill will next head to the House floor next week, and then to the Finance Committee, before heading back to the floor and then potentially going before the Senate for consideration.
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The chairman, who introduced an earlier amendment to the legalization bill that received some pushback from members, said during a previous work session last week that after HB 639 advances out of his committee, lawmakers could then revisit a separate legalization bill, HB 544, which he feels stands a better chance of enactment.
HB 544, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Eaton (D), would create a system where the recreational marijuana market would consist of government-run stores, with the Liquor Commission tasked with regulating and administering the “cultivation, manufacture, testing, and retail sale of cannabis statewide.”
Meanwhile, several other legalization bills have also been filed this session, including barebones proposals to remove cannabis from the state’s controlled substances list and allow non-commercial home cultivation for adults.
A limited home cultivation proposal focused on medical cannabis patients from Rep. Wendy Thomas (D) was scheduled to receive a vote in the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee on Wednesday, but the panel delayed action until next month.
While there’s optimism about the prospects of legalization finally moving in the Granite State this year, advocates still have work cut out for them.
Republicans held on to the both the House and Senate after last year’s election, and the latter chamber is where marijuana reform has faced its toughest obstacles in past sessions even as the House has repeatedly approved legalization bills. The Senate rejected two House-passed reform bills last year, including one that would have created a non-commercial cannabis program and another providing for commerce under a state-run model.
In the Senate, there were some shifts that favor reform, however. 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.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who was reelected last year, 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 year that reform “could be inevitable,” but he added that states need to “be patient about how you do it.”
After the Senate rejected two reform bills last year, 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 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.
Lawmakers also filed separate bills to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot, but the House rejected them.
Read the latest amended version of the New Hampshire legalization bill HB 639 below: