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New Hampshire Senate Passes Amended Marijuana Legalization Bill, But Key House Lawmakers Don’t Like Recent Changes



For the first time ever, New Hampshire’s Senate passed a marijuana legalization measure on Thursday, returning the bill to the House of Representatives for concurrence on recent amendments before it would potentially head to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Senators have adopted a number of major changes since the cannabis legislation passed the House last month, including in an initial floor vote last week, however, and some key representatives have already signaled they intend to reject the bill in its current form.

Senators voted 14–10 to pass the legislation, HB 1633, after first adopting a number of revisions. Among them were a Senate Finance Committee amendment that included a bevy of changes—most from Senate President Jeb Bradley (R), a legalization opponent—as well as two other amendments that address what senators said were drafting errors in the bill.

The committee amendment adopted on the floor reduces the measure’s proposed possession limit, from four ounces down to two, and it creates a new misdemeanor penalty for anyone consuming cannabis in a vehicle. It also steps up proposed penalties for selling marijuana to minors, requires annual training of industry employees and mandatory reporting of cannabis use disorder, sets new rules around local approval of cannabis businesses and appoints a prevention specialist to the Cannabis Control Commission—a body that would have authority over rulemaking until it is disbanded after five years.

Bradley has said repeatedly that while he opposes cannabis legalization he feels an obligation to make improvements to the measure if it has the votes to pass.

“Whether you’re a no vote or a yes vote, take solace in the fact that we have made a much better product,” he said.

Two other floor amendments made typographical changes to correct what lawmakers said were drafting errors in earlier Senate amendments to the bill.

The Republican-led Senate also rejected two floor amendments from Democrats, one that would have given licensing preference to existing in-state medical marijuana businesses over out-of-state applicants and another that would have made marijuana possession legal for adults immediately upon the bill’s passage.

The House-passed version of the bill also would have legalized possession immediately, but the Senate Finance Committee amendment delays the policy change until 2026, once the state’s licensed market is up and running. Bradley and others have said they’re worried legalizing possession without a legal place to buy the drug would expand the state’s illicit market.

While the vote is a milestone, there’s a ways to go before the proposal potentially reaches the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who has gently endorsed the Senate plan while warning he wouldn’t sign the earlier House-passed version.

Some House lawmakers, however—including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R)—say the Senate shouldn’t take for granted that the House will OK the revised bill.

“I appreciate the strategy of somebody opposed to it trying to make it as palatable as possible,” she told Marijuana Moment a day before the Senate vote, referring to the array of changes from Bradley. “The question is, will the House swallow it?”

Once the bill returns to the House, representatives can choose to approve the measure in its revised form, reject it or send the proposal to a bicameral conference committee to hammer out a compromise.

Layon said that while she hasn’t tried to count the likely votes in the House just yet, she personally can’t support the amended bill. “I think that every move they make away from the House position makes it less and less likely to pass,” the representative said.

Layon has railed against elements of the Senate version—most notably its government-run franchise model for cannabis stores—warning that the bill could expose the state to legal and financial risk and would put the government in the business of matters as minute as setting prices on store menus.

Some backers of the bill worry, however, that sending it to conference could actually lessen its chance of passage. Many believe Bradley, the Senate president, would stack the conference committee with prohibitionists in an effort to scuttle the reform.

In its current version, the proposal 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.

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. Home cultivation of cannabis for personal use, however, would remain illegal.

The bill would also create misdemeanor penalties for people consuming cannabis in a car, including passengers, and would also create a misdemeanor offense for consuming marijuana in public. Second and subsequent public consumption offenses would carry the possibility of jail time.

“I’m honestly so confused about why the Senate Democrats are going along” with certain amendments, Layon said. “It is going against so many principles they have, just like this crony model goes against Republican principles.”

As passed by the House, the legislation would have legalized through a so-called “agency store” model proposed by Layon, in which the state would oversee a system of privately run stores.

The franchise plan was a reformulation of a more directly state-run retail model first put forth by Sununu, though the governor has said he’ll also support a franchise model. It’s an approach that was first raised last year by a state commission on legalization that ultimately failed at its assignment to develop a legislative proposal.

In the past week, other House members have indicated their distaste for the Senate changes.

“I already know of 50 Democrats who are going to nonconcur, and I think that’s the tip of the iceberg,” Rep. Anita Burroughs (D), a key sponsor of the bill, told the New Hampshire Bulletin on Monday.

“I’ve been fighting for this for a lot of years, and I never imagined a day where I would vote against a bill that I’ve been sponsoring and working on,” she added. “But it’s like a bridge too far.”

A Republican sponsor in the House, Rep. J.R. Hoell, also said he plans to vote against the bill as revised by the Senate. He told the Bulletin that the pivot to the franchise model would create a near monopoly in the industry, and he opposes the other chamber’s removal of provisions allowing adults to grow their own cannabis at home,

“I think a free market does a better job of managing sales and cost distribution,” Hoell said, “and it solves problems that government can’t even anticipate. And this is definitely not a free-market model at this point.”

Layon said she thinks many lawmakers feel like their chance to legalize is now or never, and are thus willing to accept provisions they might otherwise oppose.

“I think there’s just this clock,” she said, “and people feel like this is our only chance to get it done.”

Yet some advocates are also emphasizing that the time for reform is now—even if that means making compromises. They warn that while Sununu is far from a vocal supporter of legalization, his potential replacement—leading Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Ayotte—is outright opposed to the reform.

“While the Senate version of HB 1633 has flaws, it would still represent significant progress” over current law, Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the group Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment in an email after Thursday’s vote. “It would legalize twice as much cannabis as neighboring Massachusetts and Vermont starting in January 2026, preventing hundreds of annual arrests. It would also stop people from losing their children, being denied medical care including organ transplants, and losing their professional licenses for cannabis.”

“Gov. Sununu is the first New Hampshire governor to support legalization,” she noted, “albeit with many parameters that required an extremely restrictive bill. He is not running for re-election, and the leading candidate for governor, Kelly Ayotte, is a staunch opponent of legalization.”

Sununu’s term ends in early 2025 and, observers have been weighing how the governor’s potential replacements might greet legalization. Ayotte, who currently leads in the polls, said recently that she opposes legalizing marijuana for adults.

“I don’t think legalizing marijuana is the right direction for our state,” said Ayotte, who represented New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate from 2011 to 2017 and was previously the state’s attorney general from 2004 to 2009.

Sununu, meanwhile, has in recent weeks repeated that he’ll only consider signing the bill if lawmakers follow strict criteria laid out by his office, including limiting the number of retail stores to 15 statewide and prohibiting lobbying and other political activity by the marijuana industry.

Sununu also praised earlier Senate changes to the bill, for instance the shift to a franchise model.

“It’s a model which ensures that the retail sales are ultimately controlled by the state,” he said at a press conference last week.

“Just to be clear, if they said we’re just going to have the stores run by state employees like they are with the liquor store, that would be fine, too,” the governor said. “So our franchise model is an alternative to that that is also acceptable, as long as all the other stipulations of control are put in.”

Legalization advocates have said they’re pleased to see New Hampshire make progress toward the reform, but they’ve also expressed concern about some of the Senate provisions.

ACLU of New Hampshire and other civil rights advocates, for example, have opposed the increased penalties for public consumption, warning that the more punitive would lead to disproportionately severe and lasting consequences and could end up costing the state more money because it will be required to provide defense lawyers for defendants who cannot afford one.

Existing medical marijuana patients, advocates and dispensary operators have also opposed the bill’s tax on medical cannabis products. And critics have complained its rules are unclear around how existing dispensaries, known as alternative treatment centers (ATCs), could participate in the new market.

Tim Egan, a former state representative and an advisory board member of the New Hampshire Cannabis Association, a pro-cannabis industry group, previously told the Bulletin that he has mixed feelings on the current proposal.

“I want to see this bill get passed,” he said in an interview before the Senate floor vote. “Do I like most of the things in it? No.”

“Do I want this bill to fail? No,” he added. “But if it does, I’m not going to cry about it.”

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.

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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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