The New Hampshire legislature is set to once again take up the issue of marijuana legalization this session—but this time, there’s a new strategy that lawmakers hope will overcome challenges they’ve previously faced.
A bill filed last week would allow adults 21 and older to possess and gift up to three-fourths an ounce of cannabis, and they could grow up to six plants. Missing from the legislation is a commercial sales element, which was intentionally left out to bolster its chances of passage.
That means the proposal would essentially mirror the current marijuana model of neighboring Vermont, which became the first state to enact a legal cannabis system through the legislature in 2018. While there are no recreational marijuana shops in the state, adults are allowed to grow their own and possess it for personal use.
The new legislation in New Hampshire—which has eight sponsors, including three Republicans—has been referred to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, where it’s scheduled to get a hearing on January 23.
“It’s a bipartisan bill, and we’re hoping to advance it through the House and through the Senate and to, at the very least, put an end to criminalizing the possession and cultivation of cannabis in New Hampshire,” Rep. Renny Cushing (D), a cosponsor of the legislation who has previously been the chief sponsor of broader legalization bills, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Monday.
“We see this as an incremental step toward commercialization,” he said.
The text of the bill states that New Hampshire residents are in favor of reform, numerous states have enacted legal cannabis systems and allowing adults to “cultivate their own limited supply of cannabis will provide them with an alternative to buying cannabis from illicit drug dealers.”
It also outlines penalties for violating the measure. For example, adults who possess marijuana in excess of the allowable amount will face a misdemeanor charge.
Because the legislation would not provide for commercial cannabis sales, advocates are hopeful that it will win over the support of legislators who opposed past reform efforts due to issues with provisions such as the tax rate on retail marijuana products.
“Our opponents have dug in very deeply on the concept of portraying any regulated sale of cannabis as being commercialization, the next Big Tobacco, all of the [prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana] talking points,” Matt Simon, New England political director at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “We wanted to get back to the basics of what’s really resonated in New Hampshire—the criminal justice reform, civil liberties type of arguments that adults should not be punished for using cannabis or growing a small amount of cannabis.”
“From the perspective of the goal being end prohibition, regulate and tax, it’s just another increment along the way,” he said. “But we’re looking at it as a very important goal in and of itself to stop punishing adults in New Hampshire for behavior that’s legal in every neighboring jurisdiction.”
It remains to be seen whether Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who signed a modest decriminalization measure into law in 2017 but said he’d veto commercial legalization proposals, will be more amenable to the scaled-down approach.
Cushing said legislators “don’t know how the governor will respond” at this stage.
“In the past, he’s been opposed to it. But I think what we’re seeing is an evolution on the part of many people of their thinking when it comes to cannabis policy,” he said. “If the bill gets to his desk, we hope the governor would sign it—or perhaps the governor would just let the bill become law without his signature. But that’s still a few months to go.”
Simon pointed to Sununu’s veto of a medical cannabis homegrow bill last year as a “pretty clear indication that he may veto this bill as well.” However, advocates are “going to try to put it on his desk and make him have to make that decision.”
“The goal is to continue building consensus in the legislature, trying to get to the point where we would have an opportunity to win this year, but we recognize that the odds are against winning this,” he said. “But it’s an election year so we’re going to try to pull off an upset.”
“I think the most important thing is that New Hampshire should not be an island of prohibition,” he added. “We’re literally surrounded by jurisdictions where it’s legal for adults to possess cannabis and there’s no justification whatsoever for the Live Free or Die State to be maintaining prohibition.”
A full tax-and-regulate marijuana legalization bill did pass the House of Representatives last year. But after receiving a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, it ultimately stalled and died. That was one of several marijuana legalization measures that have advanced in the legislature in recent sessions without having enough bicameral support to cross the finish line.
In Vermont, where the noncommercial legalization law has been in effect since July 2018, legislative leaders are working to add a system of regulated and tax sales and production in the 2020 session.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.