New Hampshire lawmakers are getting ready for a busy legislative session when it comes to marijuana policy, with several legalization proposals being unveiled in recent days—including one from a key Republican committee chairman and other leaders.
At least six measures to legalize cannabis for adult use have been pre-filed for 2022 in the Granite State. Three of those seek to put the question of reform directly before voters on next year’s ballot.
One of the more notable proposals that’s already received some pushback from advocates is being sponsored by Rep. Daryl Abbas (R), the chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety who has opposed past marijuana reform bills but says he’d be open to the policy change if it’s done “correctly” in his view.
That legislation, HB 1598, would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to four ounces of cannabis from state-run dispensaries operated by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission. Home cultivation would continue to be criminalized—one of the chief complaints from activists.
Another concern for advocates is the lack of social equity provisions like expunging prior cannabis convictions. In fact, having a state or federal felony conviction related to a controlled substance disqualifies people from working in the industry under the bill.
Gifting cannabis within the possession limit would be permitted under the bill, which is being cosponsored by House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R). There would also be restrictions on public consumption and advertising.
After covering administrative costs, revenue from cannabis sales, fees and penalties would be earmarked for “evidence-based, voluntary programs for substance misuse-related education, prevention, treatment, and recovery.” It would also support public safety agencies.
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In the fiscal analysis attached to the bill, the State Police offered a somewhat perplexing assessment of the cost of the reform for law enforcement.
The agency “indicates the impact to law enforcement in general would increase” because the bill “would likely result in an increase in impaired drivers, toxicology testing, black market sales and the investigation of crimes related to Cannabis Establishments,” it says.
Advocates would push back against the analysis overall, but the idea that creating a regulated market for marijuana would drive up sales on the illicit market is especially counterintuitive.
Meanwhile, three lawmakers—Reps. Joshua Adjutant (D), Renny Cushing (D) and Andrew Prout (R)—each filed separate bills to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot.
It would take a supermajority 60 percent vote in both chambers to advance any of the proposed constitutional amendments. But while that may be a tall task in the GOP-controlled legislature, if they’re successful, it would enable lawmakers to avoid a likely veto on statutory reform legislation from anti-legalization Gov. Chris Sununu (R).
Voters would be asked whether to adopt the following language to the state Constitution if the measures advance through the legislature:
Adjutant: “The general court of this state shall make no law infringing on the right to the use, sale, or cultivation of cannabis for persons over 18 years of age.”
Cushing: “All adults shall have the right to possess cannabis intended for their personal consumption.”
Prout: “All adults have the right to possess, use, and cultivate cannabis; subject to regulations or taxes on commercial activity as the general court may impose.”
Should legislators approve placing a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis on the ballot, 67 percent of voters would then have to vote in favor for it to be enacted. Recent polling indicates that residents are ready for the reform, with three in four New Hampshirites favoring legalization.
Separately, standalone legalization legislation that’s been retained from this year is set to be taken up when lawmakers reconvene early in 2022, and advocates are hopeful that it will advance based on prior votes in the House. The chamber passed a legalization bill last year, but it died in a Senate committee.
“Representatives who support legalization will have several options to choose from in 2022,” Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire, told Marijuana Moment. “It will be interesting to see which ideas gain traction and which ones don’t.”
There are also new 2022 bills to expand the state’s existing law that decriminalizes low-level cannabis possession and to prevent police from using the smell of marijuana as probable cause for a search.
While the governor remains opposed to adult-use legalization, advocates are encouraged that he signed a bill in August adding opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition for the state’s medical cannabis program and also allows out-of-state patients to access dispensaries.
In 2017, Sununu signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession in the Granite State, though he continues to oppose adding a legal commercial cannabis sales component.
Separately, a New Hampshire Senate committee in March heard testimony on a House-passed bill to allow medical marijuana patients to grow a limited number of plants for personal use. But it was ultimately tabled in the full chamber.
Meanwhile, other nearby northeast states such as Maine and Vermont have already legalized recreational cannabis.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.