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New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Faces Final Votes This Week On Way To Governor’s Desk



With bicameral negotiators from New Hampshire’s House and Senate having struck a deal last week on a marijuana legalization bill, the compromise heads to the floor of each chamber on Thursday for final up-or-down votes. If the measure ultimately proceeds to Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) desk and becomes law, it would make New Hampshire the 25th state in the U.S. to legalize cannabis for adults.

Members of both chambers, however, have indicated disappointment with the legislation as it came out of the conference committee last week. And some who support legalization in general have said they plan to vote against it.

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Erica Layon (R) told Marijuana Moment that she’s warmed on the conference committee’s compromise bill since last week’s bargain, but she still thinks there’s “a big chance” that her colleagues will reject it.

“We had an agreement of four House members and three senators to sign off on the committee of conference,” Layon said. “Just because they agreed doesn’t mean that the full House or the full Senate will agree. Quite often things are defeated when they come back.”

“I still think it’s going to be a toss up as to whether it passes the House,” she said.

Separately, the legislature this week will also decide on two bills aimed at expanding the state’s existing medical marijuana program. One proposal would allow doctors to recommend cannabis for any condition they believe would be improved through marijuana use. The other would expand the pool of healthcare professionals who can recommend the drug.

When it comes to recreational legalization, one lawmaker who’s already described himself as an “unfortunate no” on the bill—Rep. Heath Howard (D)— told WMUR last week that he didn’t think the compromise was “worthy of our seal of approval.”

“We will only get one chance to create a well regulated market for adult-use cannabis,” said Howard, who is also a medical marijuana patient, “and it’s important we get it right.”

Even some members of the conference committee itself expressed hesitation before signing off on the negotiated bill last week.

“I’m signing this with a lot of angst and a lot of deliberation on my part, and I think some of my colleagues will feel the same way,” said Rep. Anita Burroughs (D). “However, I think that it’s time that we legalize cannabis, and I think that this is the right move.”

While either chamber could vote down the cannabis measure at this point, most eyes are on the House’s response to the new proposal. That’s largely because the legislation is based on a version of the bill passed by the Senate—one that House members rejected last month.

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R), who sat on the conference committee for the first two of its three meetings last week, told NH Journal that he’s concerned the conference committee’s compromise may not fare well in the House. He said the currently proposed immediate decriminalization of only one ounce of marijuana, rather than two, could diminish support in his chamber.

But while the final legislation didn’t turn out how he hoped, Osborne nevertheless said he’d urge his colleagues to support it.

“It’s better to pass a bill,” he said, “so yes.”

Based largely on language passed last month by the Senate, the revised measure, HB 1633, would allow 15 stores to open statewide beginning in 2026 through a novel state-run franchise system. Though stores would be privately run, the government would oversee operations, including setting final prices on products. Purchases would incur a 15 percent “franchise fee”—effectively a tax—that would apply to both adult-use and medical marijuana purchases.

Marijuana possession wouldn’t become legal until 2026, once the state’s licensed market is up and running. That same year, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana would become fully legal. In the meantime, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis would carry a $100 maximum civil fine.

The proposal would limit each municipality to only a single cannabis retail establishment unless it’s home to more than 50,000 people. 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.

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 a THC-infused beverage—would carry no punishment, unlike open container rules around alcohol.

For someone driving a car, the bill would outlaw consumption of cannabis by any means. Passengers would be forbidden from smoking or vaping cannabis. Driving under the influence of marijuana would remain a crime regardless of where the cannabis was consumed.

By contrast, the version of the bill passed by the House in April would have legalize through a so-called “agency store” model preferred by sponsor Layon and colleagues in that chamber. Under that approach, the state would oversee a system of privately run stores, with strict limits on marketing and advertising. That version also included a higher personal possession limit of four ounces, and medical marijuana would be been exempt from the state surcharge. Further, personal possession of two ounces of cannabis would have become legal immediately.

Most legalization and criminal justice advocates preferred the House bill, though they did welcome some licensing provision changes in the Senate version.

Layon told colleagues repeatedly during the session that she would not have her name on legislation that legalized through a government-controlled franchise model, but now that the negotiations are done and the bill is at the final do-or-die stage, says she could accept it.

“As we were working through it and talking to more people, we didn’t have much time between when the Senate changed the bill and when we had to vote on it,” she explained. “Now, with that clarity of time, I realize that the Senate made it easier to change.”

“I still don’t love the franchise model,” Layon added. But in her view, Senate-backed changes establishing the Cannabis Control Commission, a rulemaking authority that would be disbanded after only a few years.

On the Senate side, Senate President Jeb Bradley (R) said repeatedly during the session that he personally opposes legalization, even announcing at one point that he didn’t want the bill to proceed past the Senate floor. But even if Bradley opposes the measure, it should still have enough Senate votes to pass—at least based on how votes fell in a floor vote in the chamber last month.

Some advocates had warned that Bradley, who appointed himself to the conference committee, might attempt to singlehandedly scuttle the bill. The conference committee required unanimous agreement to return the legislation to lawmakers, meaning a sole no vote could have stopped it.

The Senate president downplayed those concerns in comments to NH Journal.

“The people who said that weren’t paying attention,” said Bradley, whose office did not respond in recent weeks to multiple emailed requests from Marijuana Moment attempting to clarify his position on the bill and intent for the conference committee. “While I’m not going to vote for it, I said that I would represent the will of the Senate and work to make the bill better.”

“I was probably the biggest pain in the ass,” continued the Senate president, who isn’t seeking reelection in November, “but as I said all along, I want the best bill possible.”

The next hurdle, if the House and Senate sign off on the bill, is Sununu, who’s said that he personally opposes legalization but sees the reform as inevitable.

Though the governor’s office hasn’t replied to multiple requests for comment from Marijuana Moment, Sununu has previously said that he would accept legislation based on the Senate-passed version of the bill—provided House lawmakers made no major adjustments.

Failure to enact the current proposal could delay legalization indefinitely in New Hampshire, especially in light of the looming election. Voters in November will not only elect House and Senate lawmakers but also pick a replacement for Sununu, who isn’t seeking 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, recently sent out a press release in favor of legalization.

“It’s time for New Hampshire to catch up with the rest of New England and finally legalize marijuana,” said Joyce 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.”

Advocates have been divided on the bill since the Senate changes, but groups like the Marijuana Policy Project are optimistic the proposal can pass.

“I’m hopeful that when push comes to shove on Thursday, the House will legalize cannabis,” Karen O’Keefe, the group’s director of state policies, told Marijuana Moment in an email. “At least three of the bill’s sponsors who opposed concurrence are planning to vote ‘yes.’”

“Anyone who looks at gubernatorial polls knows the opportunity to legalize may not come again this decade,” she added. “With 70% of NH voters supporting legalization, I just don’t see reps who overwhelmingly voted for legalization in April choosing to keep NH an island of prohibition.”

Lawmakers in the state 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.

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.

Bicameral lawmakers convened a 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.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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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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