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New Hampshire Senate And House Lawmakers Clash Over Marijuana Legalization Bill



The sponsor of a House-passed bill to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire is defending her proposal from bipartisan critics in the Senate, who said over the weekend that they prefer a different approach that would establish a novel, state-controlled market.

Sens. Daryl Abbas (R) and Cindy Rosenwald (D) said in a recent TV interview with WMUR that they’d rather legalize cannabis through a state-run franchise model, which has the support of Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

“What was passed in the House,” Abbas said, “I would not support that if it came to the Senate.”

But the sponsor of HB 1633, Rep. Erica Layon (R), says the rival franchise model is “fraught with peril.” She’s consistently argued that giving the government day-to-day control over cannabis retailers would invite significant legal liability for the state, as would a proposed ban on lobbying by franchisees that Sununu also supports.

Layon’s more traditional licensing approach, along with strict limits on advertising, would both protect public safety and minimize legal risk, she told Marijuana Moment.

“The model which passed the House last week presents a classy, controlled, and cautious approach to legalization,” Layon said in an email. “Rather than make the state the senior partner in a market-controlling scheme to save the market from itself, our bill places strong regulatory guardrails while not having the state involved in setting prices, wages, and what speech is allowed by franchisees.”

The House has repeatedly passed legalization bills in recent sessions, but they’ve consistently stalled in the Senate.

Under Layon’s proposal, the state would license private retailers in a manner closer to how other states have handled the issue. But Abbas and other critics claim legalization in other states has been a disaster.

“They just rebranded the typical retail store model,” he said in the TV interview, “and we’ve seen that fail in every other state that’s done this.”

Under the franchise model, by contrast, “the state would be really acting as a franchisor, really in a partnership with a franchisee,” Abbas continued. “What that does, it offers the market protection so a larger company or a larger operation can’t oversaturate the market and manipulate the sale price, causing the smaller places to go under. And we’ve seen that time and time again.”

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

Many observers expected Abbas to offer his own legalization bill this session, but no such measure materialized. Instead, Layon’s bill has become the likely vehicle for reform this session—at least if it can pass the Senate.

In comments to Marijuana Moment, Layon pushed back against Abbas’s criticism.

“Fans of the franchise model call it a re-tread of other states,” she said of her proposal, “but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

While most states have created independent cannabis regulators, HB 1633 would have the state Liquor Commission “highly engaged in regulating the market,” with caps on cultivation and licensing intended to “keep a local focus and foster small business,” Layon said.

“It also nips advertising in the bud, sets consistent names, logos, and store exteriors in order to present a classy cannabis model into a maturing market,” she added.

Since introducing the bill, she’s spent recent weeks making that case and working to build consensus with Senate counterparts.

The new WMUR interview, however, is a sign that some key Senate factions aren’t on board. Rosenwald, for her part, agreed that “more state control is probably better for the program.”

“It will be better for pricing, for product quality, for location. I just think it’s probably the better way to go,” she said.

Rosenwald added that she’s “more of a fan of the franchise model than the state-store model,” because a government-run approach would leave the state on the hook for building new stores and hiring employees.

“I think that would be a longer term to get this program off to market,” she said, “so for me, the franchise model represents the right consensus and compromise.”

Layon, however, reiterated that HB 1633 is “the right model for legalization in New Hampshire, addressing the core goals outlined by the corner office and avoiding the concern about franchisee lobbying by creating a tightly regulated market rather than a fiduciary relationship between the state and for-profit businesses.”

After last week’s House passage, the measure next heads to the body’s Finance Committee and will then come back to the floor for one more vote before heading to the Senate.

The current version of Layon’s bill was approved as a substitute by the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee earlier this month.

When the legislation first landed in that panel, chair Rep. John Hunt (R), a member of last year’s study commission, initially warned Layon that if she didn’t get support from Senate lawmakers, the proposal would be dead on arrival.

In a majority report for the House committee, Rep. Anita Burroughs (D) wrote that the bill would initially open 15 stores, though additional retail licenses could be authorized later on. It would also strict limits on products and sales, the report says, which focusing on transitioning into a legal market.

“Many years of work have led to this effort, which focuses the State of NH on harm reduction, not profits, and allows the state to control distribution and access through state laws, administrative rules, and local control,” the report says. “The legalization of cannabis will move production and sales from the underground, sometimes dangerous, illicit market to legal businesses, allowing for appropriate regulations and control.”

Burroughs said before this month’s committee vote that the bill is “not 100 percent of what anybody wants,” but she warned that the state is “taking a crapshoot if we don’t pass it this year” given the upcoming election in November.

Unlike in most states, general purpose advertising would be banned outright, including on billboards and social media. Layon has said advertisements on marijuana-specific platforms like Weedmaps, however, would be allowed in order to allow consumers to find the stores.

Companies could not use slang to promote marijuana or encourage overconsumption, for example through the use of a logo showing someone with bloodshot eyes. And regulators could limit business names and other marketing.

The plan includes a narrow allowance for for certain vaporization devices, though it also allows regulators to prohibit “types of vaporizers that are particularly likely to be utilized by minors without detection.” It specifies that regulators may not ban “or unreasonably restrict” vaporizers categorically, however.

Layon’s proposal would further allow people to petition to have past criminal records annulled if the charges were for possession of less than what’s legal after the change. The lawmaker said earlier this month that she’s been in discussions with ACLU representatives on the issue.

For opponents on the committee, Rep. Lilli Walsh (R) wrote in a minority report that the proposal “is still not ready or suitable for the citizens of New Hampshire.”

“Introducing drastic cultural change, increased healthcare costs, and significant societal impact is not in the best interest of the state,” the report says. “Additionally, the unambiguous question of creating conflict with federal law specifically regarding the sale and distribution of a federally controlled substance, has not been addressed.”

Some outside voices have also criticized certain elements of the bill. ACLU of New Hampshire Executive Director Devon Chaffee said in committee, for example, that she opposes how the latest changes to the bill would penalize public consumption of marijuana.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 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.

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.

But the legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation, which was being considered following Sununu’s surprise announcement that he backed state-run legalization.

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

In May, the House separately defeated a different marijuana legalization amendment that was being proposed as part of 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 Philip Steffan.

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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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