New Hampshire Senators Reject House-Passed Marijuana Legalization Bills In Committee, But Floor Votes Still Planned
A New Hampshire Senate committee has rejected two House-passed bills to legalize marijuana—as well as a measure to allow medical cannabis patients to grow their own plants—though they will still move to the floor despite the procedural defeat.
The House Republican sponsor of the legalization legislation, meanwhile, has signaled that he’s prepared to hold up unrelated Senate measures if the opposite chamber fails to enact the reform.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted against the legalization and regulation measure from House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R) and Minority Leader Matthew Wilhelm (D), deeming it “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL) in a 3-2 vote on Tuesday. The same fate awaited a non-commercial legalization bill and a proposal to permit home cultivation for cannabis patients.
The proposals were previously discussed at a hearing that the panel scheduled on the cannabis holiday 4/20 last month.
Sen. Rebecca Whitley (D) voted against the ITL motion on the comprehensive legalization bill, saying constituents have been “very clear that it is time to end marijuana prohibition in New Hampshire and to legalize it in a way that’s regulated.”
“New Hampshire is an island of prohibition, and that means that money is being spent right over our borders. This bill was an opportunity to capture those dollars,” she said. “I think it’s a mistake to ITL this bill. I had hoped that we would be able to at least have a discussion about it.”
Advocates have closely monitored the legislation, holding out hope that the GOP-controlled Senate will take a different approach to the reform after rejecting two legalization proposals that the House passed last session. The bill that was rejected in committee on Tuesday is still technically alive and will move to the floor, possibly as early as Thursday, but senators have given an early indication that its prospects are dim.
Osborne, the sponsor and House majority leader, made a not-so-subtle threat to the Senate on Monday, urging the chamber to “stop kicking the can down the road” and pointing out that “there are a lot of Senate bills in possession of the House right now, and it’d be a shame if anything were to happen to them.”
Majority Leader @Osborne4NH on the increasingly precarious fate of the House cannabis legalization bill now in @TheNHSenate: "…there are a lot of Senate bills in the possession of the House right now & it would be a shame if anything were to happen to them." #NHPolitics #WMUR pic.twitter.com/6ivDfYv4yb
— Adam Sexton (@AdamSextonWMUR) May 8, 2023
For his part, Senate President Jeb Bradley (R) has already said that he’d oppose the legislation and predicted that it would fail on the floor.
The commercial legalization bill that stalled out in committee is modeled differently than previous House-approved measures, proposing a more conventional regulated private market, unlike the state-run and non-commercial bills that failed last session.
Advocates also grew more optimistic this session in light certain changes to Senate membership after last year’s election that they hoped could tilt the scale in favor of legalization.
Sen. Keith Murphy (R), a cosponsor of the reform bill, recently said that he felt the measure had a 50-50 chance of passage this session. The bill, HB 639, passed the House with more than two-thirds of the vote last month.
Here’s what HB 639 would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older would be able to purchase, possess and gift up to four ounces of cannabis.
The newly renamed Liquor and Cannabis Commission would be responsible for regulating the marijuana market and issuing business licenses.
There would not be any statewide cap on the number of marijuana businesses that could be licensed.
Within 18 months of enactment, the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and commission would need to develop regulations allowing existing medical cannabis dispensaries to apply for dual licenses to start serving adult consumers.
Cannabis would be taxed in the amount of 12.5 percent of of products’ value in their final form at the wholesale level.
After the costs of legalization implementation are covered, $100,000 of revenue would fund data collection and reporting on health impacts of cannabis prohibition and cannabis regulation.
Of remaining funds after that, 50 percent would be disbursed to cities and towns to offset the education tax, 30 percent would be credited to the New Hampshire retirement system to offset its unfunded accrued liability, 10 percent or $25 million (whichever is less) would fund substance use programs, 5 percent would be used to hire and train drug recognition experts and 5 percent would support children’s behavioral health services.
Localities could limit or ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area.
There would be employment protections for state or local government workers who use marijuana off the job. Professional and occupational licenses couldn’t be denied or withdrawn because a person uses cannabis.
Marijuana companies could deduct business expenses from their taxes at the state level.
There are no provisions to allow home cultivation or annul prior cannabis convictions.
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Meanwhile, the committee also rejected legislation that would allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants for personal use. The measure would allow patients and designated caregivers to cultivate up to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings.
And a House-passed legalization bill that contains virtually no regulations or limitations on cannabis was similarly deemed ITL on Tuesday.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who was reelected last year, remains opposed to legalization—but his more recent comments on the issue seem to show a softening of his position. He said during a debate last year that reform “could be inevitable,” but he added that states need to “be patient about how you do it.”
After the Senate rejected two reform bills last year, 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 Brian Shamblen.