Much attention has been paid to the prospects for ending marijuana prohibition this year in Vermont and New Jersey. But another state has a shot to advance a cannabis legalization bill through its legislature — and it could happen this week.
The New Hampshire House of Representatives is expected to consider the issue after the legislature reconvenes for the year on Wednesday.
The 400-member body’s calendar for that day includes HB 656, a marijuana legalization bill that was rejected by a divided Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in November.
But supportive members of that panel are planning to amend the bill on the floor in a way they believe gives it a chance of passing and advancing to the Senate.
As introduced, the bill would create a full system of legal, taxed and regulated cannabis sales. Opponents say that because a legislative study commission is currently examining how legalized marijuana commerce could one day work in the state, passing the legislation now would be premature.
So pro-legalization lawmakers will move to scale back the legislation to allow only low-level possession and home cultivation.
That approach would be similar to legislation that neighboring Vermont’s lawmakers and governor are expected to enact this month.
Matt Simon, the Marijuana Policy Project’s New England political director, predicted in an email to Marijuana Moment that there will be “significant debate” on the issue this week.
Here’s what to expect, according to Simon:
“First, the House will vote on whether to uphold the committee’s ‘inexpedient to legislate’ motion, which passed in a vote of 13-7. I think there’s a good chance the committee will be overturned (as has happened many times on marijuana bills dating back to 2008). If that happens, the minority of the committee will get to make its case for an amendment that would simply legalize possession and cultivation. If the House votes to adopt the amendment, the next motion will be ‘ought to pass’ as amended.
“If that all happens, since the tax component will have been removed, the bill presumably won’t need to go to a second committee — it would head straight to the Senate, where it would have to at least receive a public hearing in committee.”
Passage in the Senate would be far from assured, but the House victory would amount to significant early progress at the start of a year that advocates believe will bring about several big wins for cannabis in states across the country.
In New Hampshire, the House repeatedly approved legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis over the course of several years, only to see those bills consistently defeated in the Senate.
It wasn’t until last year that the support of newly elected Gov. Chris Sununu (R) provided a boost to the decrim effort and the bill passed both chambers and was enacted into law.
Now, advocates will try to expand on that victory by removing the fines that are assessed to adults possessing small amounts of marijuana, and add legal home cultivation.
“The minority of the committee believes the war on pot is over,” Rep. Frank Sapareto (R) wrote in a summary of arguments in favor of the bill from Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee members who support it. “The minority supports the home-grow option of three immature and three mature plants.”
Simon, of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said the bill “would have to be considered a longshot in the Senate.”
“However, if the House passes HB 656 in any form, it will rightly be viewed as one more nail in the coffin of marijuana prohibition in New Hampshire,” he said. “The most recent poll indicates that 68% of Granite Staters believe marijuana should be legalized, and 2018 is an election year, so I won’t be surprised if more and more legislators decide to evolve on the issue.”
In 2014, the New Hampshire House became the first legislative chamber in U.S. history to approve a marijuana legalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.
MPP is asking supporters in New Hampshire to contact their representatives about this week’s cannabis vote.