The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday rejected two House-passed bill that would have legalized marijuana: one to simply allow possession and home cultivation for adults without a sales component and another to create a state-run cannabis market.
The noncommercial legislation from Rep. Carol McGuire (R) was defeated in a 9-15 vote after members discussed and rejected an amendment that would have removed the home grow option and added a per se THC limit for impaired driving.
The other bill from Rep. Daryl Abbas (R) that would have created an adult-use market operated by the state’s Liquor Commission was subsequently defeated on a voice vote. It was rejected by a Senate committee earlier this month, but it still advanced to the floor under the legislature’s rules.
These actions come weeks after McGuire’s homegrow bill advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee with an ought to pass recommendation. While the House has on many occasions passed legalization measures, that marked the first time that a Senate panel had approved such a proposal.
Rather than enact the policy change, however, the bill was soundly defeated on the floor. Members deemed it “inexpedient to legislate” in a follow-up vote, which means its formally killed for the session.
Prior to the vote on the noncommercial legalization measure on Thursday, Sen. Becky Whitley (D) said that the “passage of this legislation is an appropriate and necessary step for us to take as the state.”
New Hampshire has “become an island” in the region with respect to cannabis policy,” she said.
“This bill will bring us somewhat more in line with our neighbors and with a more modern understanding of cannabis,” Whitley said, adding that the reform will “benefit our citizens and it will ease an unnecessary burden off of our law enforcement community.”
“New Hampshire voters want us to make this change, and it has become the time to do so,” she said. “The so-called war on marijuana has not worked.”
But opponents voiced strong concerns about the message that ending cannabis criminalization for adults would send to children and how the policy could impact road safety.
Advocates were generally in favor of taking the interim step to legalize possession and home cultivation for adults. Meanwhile, many felt wary of the competing measure to create a state monopoly for cannabis sales in the state.
Here’s what McGuire’s non-commercial marijuana legalization bill would have done:
Adults 21 and older could possess up to three-fourths of an ounce of cannabis for personal use.
They could further grow up to six plants—only three of which could be mature—in a secure location out of sight from other properties.
Cannabis gifting of up to three-fourths of an ounces of marijuana or up to three immature plants would be permitted between adults 21 and older.
Processing marijuana into cannabis-infused products, including edibles and tinctures, would be permitted as well.
Public consumption would be prohibited and carry a civil penalty of $100.
Adults who violate cultivation rules by, for example, growing plants visible to other properties would face a maximum $750 fine.
The bill as drafted was nearly identical to an earlier version that also passed the House under Democratic control in 2020 but which was defeated in the Senate at the committee stage.
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“The senators who voted to continue punishing adults for cannabis possession are going to have a lot of explaining to do this summer and fall when they are seeking re-election,” Matt Simon, director of public and government relations for Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of NH, told Marijuana Moment.
As it stands, possessing up to three-fourths of an ounce of marijuana is decriminalized in New Hampshire, punishable by a $100 fine for a first offense and escalating for subsequent offenses. Home cultivation remains prohibited, however, even for medical cannabis patients.
Meanwhile, with respect to the state-run marijuana bill, advocates and stakeholders have raised concerns about the idea of the proposed model, which would be unlike any other cannabis market that’s currently in place in other states.
But notably, the legislation earned some praise from Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who despite being a historically outspoken opponent of adult-use legalization, said recently that reform “could be inevitable” in the state and that HB 1598 is “the right bill and the right structure.”
“So if you are ever going to do it, do that bill,” he said.
The governor added in a separate recent interview that he’s “not fully committal” in his longstanding opposition to legalization.
Nearly three in four New Hampshire voters support legalizing marijuana, according to a recent poll. And bipartisan majorities also say they’re in favor of conducting cannabis sales through a state-run model.
Reform supporters have spent years working with the GOP-controlled legislature to craft thoughtful legislation to end cannabis criminalization, though diverging viewpoints and resistance from Republican leadership has consistently derailed the reform.
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. Cushing, who served as House Democratic leader, passed away recently after a battle with cancer.
The House defeated Prout’s proposed constitutional amendment and voted to table the two other measures.
In order to have advanced any of the proposed constitutional amendments, it would have taken a supermajority 60 percent vote in both chambers. If any of the constitutional amendments were enacted, it would have enabled legislators to avoid a likely veto on statutory reform legislation from anti-legalization Sununu.
If legislators had ultimately moved to place a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis on the ballot, 67 percent of voters would then have needed 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.
The governor’s opposition to adult-use legalization has been a constant source of contention. However, advocates were glad that he at least 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 2019, lawmakers sent a medical cannabis home grow bill to Sununu’s desk, but he vetoed it.
The state House separately tabled a bill last month that would have decriminalized possession of psilocybin mushrooms.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.