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New Hampshire Lawmakers Will Meet To Craft A Marijuana Legalization Compromise This Week



Lawmakers on a New Hampshire conference committee are set to meet on Tuesday in an effort to strike a deal on legalizing marijuana. The House and Senate passed two drastically different versions of cannabis legalization legislation last month, setting the stage for the joint meeting.

Some of the bill’s supporters have already predicted that the bicameral panel will fail to reach a compromise, noting that Senate President Jeb Bradley (R), who will sit on the committee, has repeatedly said that he opposes the reform and wants to see the bill die. Others, however, are holding out hope that there’s still a way to reach consensus.

“You know, right now, the odds aren’t great,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R), told Marijuana Moment last week. “I’m gonna go into it optimistic, but I don’t really expect much to come of it.”

Sen. Daryl Abbas (R), who chaired a state commission on legalization last year and introduced a sweeping Senate floor amendment last month that made major changes to Layon’s bill, also told Marijuana Moment he’s “not optimistic” that the bill “would survive a committee of conference.”

An earlier version of the legislation passed the House in April. The subsequent Senate changes, however—including a committee amendment with changes from Bradley and others—shifted its core regulatory approach made a number of other adjustments.

On Thursday, however, House lawmakers roundly rejected the Senate amendments, prompting the creation of the conference committee.

Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has indicated he’d support the Senate version of the bill but would oppose the measure as passed by the House. He said last week that if the House passed the bill with the Senate’s changes, he’d sign it.

“I think the Senate version is OK,” Sununu told NH Journal. “They put some other stuff in there that I wasn’t necessarily looking for, but they’re not deal breakers.”

But if House lawmakers “want to make significant changes,” the governor added, “then it’s not going to pass. It’s that easy.”

To get the legislation back to the floor of both chambers for up or down votes and then potentially to the governor’s desk, all seven members of the conference committee would need to agree on a compromise ahead of a deadline on Thursday. A single vote of opposition—for example from Bradley—would mean the measure’s demise.

In recent days, however, some have indicated there’s still hope that the bicameral committee can reach a deal.

“I think there’s a path to a ‘yes,’ but only if the House understands pragmatism and what it will take to get to a governor’s signature,” Sen. Tim Lang, one of the Senate members of the conference committee, told Marijuana Moment. Otherwise, he added, “we are wasting our time. Neither body has the votes to overturn a veto.”

Lang said he thinks it’s possible Bradley will ultimately vote in favor of compromise legislation despite his underlying opposition to legalization.

“I think Senate President Bradley will uphold the Senate position, which was a yes vote to the bill,” Lang said. “In the [committee of conference], he will respect the majority of the Senate’s vote and position.”

Bradley himself did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment, nor did other members of the joint conference committee.

In addition to Bradley and Lang, Sen. Shannon Chandley (D) will also sit on the panel. On the House side, members will include Reps. John Hunt (R), Jason Osborne (R), Anita Burroughs (D) and Jane Beaulieu (D).

Burroughs recently had Layon on a podcast she hosts to discuss cannabis legalization.

Like lawmakers, advocates are similarly split on whether there’s a chance of compromise on the legislation, HB 1633.

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), has spent months lobbying lawmakers on details of the bill. She said she’ll be working hard to push the conference committee to pass a legalization bill that could become law.

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” she told Marijuana Moment. “I’ll be trying to influence the committee of conference to adopt changes to the Senate-passed bill that could win back a majority in the House without crossing red lines of swing votes in the Senate or the governor.”

Other advocates are more resigned. Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at medical marijuana provider GraniteLeaf Cannabis, said he’s not expecting a grand bargain.

“The House and Senate conferees are obviously very far apart on this,” he told Marijuana Moment in an email, “so I don’t see any real hope for the CoC process.”

(Disclosure: Simon supports Marijuana Moment’s work via a monthly Patreon pledge.)

Other advocates, including the New Hampshire Cannabis Association (NHCann), have come out in opposition to the bill as revised by the Senate.

In an email to supporters, NHCann’s founder, Daryl Eames, called the Senate-amended version of the legislation a “Soviet Weed” bill that’s “wrong for New Hampshire,” adding that senators had “warped it beyond recognition.”

Taking that message a step further, NHCann Action also appears to have paid for a truck to drive around Concord with a billboard depicting Sununu as a Soviet communist—a criticism of the Senate bill’s state-franchise approach to legalization, under which the government would control the look, feel and general operations of each retail store. As written, the state’s Liquor Commission would even have final authority to set prices on marijuana products.

If the committee does undertake its work in earnest, its job will be to reconcile two complex bills that differ significantly on regulatory structure, criminal justice, licensing, personal possession and THC limits, tax rates, medical marijuana and sundry other issues.

As passed by the Senate, the bill would allow 15 franchise stores to open statewide. Purchases would incur a 15 percent “franchise fee”—effectively a tax—that would apply to both adult-use and medical marijuana purchases. Though stores would be privately run, the government would oversee operations.

Marijuana possession wouldn’t become legal until 2026, once the state’s licensed market is up and running.

The proposal would limit each municipality to only a single cannabis retail establishment unless it’s home to more than 50,000 people, though only two cities in the state, Manchester and Nashua, meet that threshold. Local voters would also need to pre-approve the industry in order for businesses to open in that jurisdiction.

Adults could possess up to two ounces of marijuana under the Senate plan. Home cultivation of cannabis for personal use would remain illegal, and the state’s Liquor Commission would have the authority to enforce that provision.

Smoking or vaping marijuana in public would be a violation on the first offense and an misdemeanor for second or subsequent offenses within five years, a charge that could carry jail time. Consuming cannabis in other forms in public—for example, drinking an THC-infused beverage—would carry no punishment, unlike open container rules around alcohol.

The bill would also outlaw consumption of cannabis by any means, including edibles, by any driver or passenger of a vehicle being driven in any way. That would also be an unclassified misdemeanor with the potential for jail time.

The version of the bill passed by the House in April, by contrast, would legalize through a so-called “agency store” model proposed by Layon, in which the state would oversee a system of privately run stores, with strict limits on marketing and advertising. That version also includes a higher personal possession limit of four ounces and a lower, 12 percent fee on purchases. Further, medical marijuana would be been exempt from the state surcharge, and personal possession would become legal immediately.

The House bill, like the Senate version, would not allow home cultivation of cannabis.

Most legalization and criminal justice advocates prefer the House bill, though they do prefer some licensing provisions in the Senate version.

As for what adjustments the conference committee might make, O’Keefe at MPP doubted whether members from the Senate would be willing to pivot back to the House version of the bill, but she said there might be a chance to push for other changes.

“I don’t see the Senate moving on the 15-stores issue or franchises (and if they did, the governor would veto it),” she wrote in an email. “But I’m hoping they’d be willing to negotiate on other changes to address concerns the House raised, such as the effective date for possession, including prioritization for ATCs, and not taxing patients.”

If the conference committee ultimately fails to agree on a bill the governor will sign, legalization in New Hampshire potentially be could be delayed for years. In the coming November election, voters will elect House and Senate lawmakers but will also pick a replacement for Sununu, who not running for reelection. Two top Republican gubernatorial contenders, former U.S. Rep. Kelly Ayotte and former state Sen. Chuck Morse, have already said they would oppose the reform if elected.

“I don’t think legalizing marijuana is the right direction for our state,” Ayotte said late last month.

The leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate meanwhile, Joyce Craig, sent out a press release in favor of legalization following Thursday’s news that the measure was headed to a conference committee.

“It’s time for New Hampshire to catch up with the rest of New England and finally legalize marijuana,” said Craig, a three-term mayor of Manchester whose last term ended in January. “We need a system that encourages competition and creates revenue that we can invest in our state. We are missing out on millions of dollars that could go towards affordable housing, strengthening our public schools, and recovery programs, all while developing an industry that would create good-paying jobs and give adults a freedom that all of our neighbors already enjoy.”

If elected, she added, “I will work with the legislature and our communities to pass a marijuana legalization bill that works for New Hampshire.”

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

New Hampshire lawmakers worked extensively on marijuana reform issues last session and attempted to reach a compromise to enact legalization through a multi-tiered system that would include state-controlled shops, dual licensing for existing medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses privately licensed to individuals by state agencies. The legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation.

Bicameral lawmakers also convened the state commission tasked with studying legalization and proposing a path forward last year, though the group ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation.

The Senate defeated a more conventional House-passed legalization bill last year, HB 639, despite its bipartisan support.

Last May, the House defeated marijuana legalization language that was included in a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also moved to table another piece of legislation that 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 the 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.

This story has been updated to correct the agency authorized in the bill to enforce the prohibition of home cultivation and to clarify that Sununu is not running for reelection.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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