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New Hampshire Senators Split On House-Passed Marijuana Legalization Bill Ahead Of 4/20 Hearing



The fate of a New Hampshire House-passed marijuana legalization bill is now in the Senate’s hands. And GOP lawmakers are giving mixed predictions about how it will fare in the chamber ahead of a committee hearing scheduled on the cannabis holiday 4/20 where members will discuss a wide range of reform proposals.

While a handful of Republican senators are giving advocates hope that the reform could clear the body, which has historically resisted legalization measures advanced by the House, Senate President Jeb Bradley (R) says he’s a no vote and doesn’t expect the legislation to pass when it comes up for consideration in his chamber, which is expected next month.

“I have supported medical marijuana and decriminalization of three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana. I am not going to vote for recreational marijuana,” Bradley told The Conway Daily Sun. “I think when all is said and done, it’s not going to be enacted into law.”

But not everyone shares that perspective, and advocates feel there’s enough momentum to advance the measure from bipartisan House leaders, especially with some changes to membership after last year’s election that could tilt the scale.

Sen. Keith Murphy (R), a cosponsor of the legalization bill, is giving the measure a 50-50 chance of passage this session.

“Prohibition has proven over and over to be a failed public policy,” he said. “It is especially ineffective when all of our surrounding states have already legalized marijuana possession and use.”

Pete Mulvey, an aide to the freshman senator, told The Boston Globe that the issue is “still up in the air,” and the chances of passage are “likely as good as they have ever been.”

People will likely getting a better sense of the Senate dynamics around the issue next Thursday, April 20. That’s when the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider several cannabis bills, including the main House passed legalization measure, during a meeting that day.

Members of the panel will also take up separate legalization legislation on the unofficial cannabis holiday, as well as proposals to allow medical cannabis patients to grow their own plants, expand the medical marijuana program and more generally lower criminal penalties for drug-related offenses.

The Senate rejected two House-passed reform bills last year, including one that would have created a non-commercial cannabis program and another providing for commerce under a state-run model.

Rep. Michael Costable (R) said that he likes the odds of the legislation this time around, saying that while the Senate has been a “disappointment” in past sessions, he’s “optimistic that this time is different and the Senate will pass this on to the governor.”

“I do believe pressure on the Senate and governor from constituents could help nudge them into accepting this excellent legalization bill,” he told The Daily Sun.

HB 639, sponsored by Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R) and Minority Leader Matthew Wilhelm (D), passed the House with more than two-thirds of the vote last week.

Here’s what HB 639 as amended 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.

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.

Last month, the New Hampshire House approved a separate bill to allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants for personal use.

The floor vote on home grow came about a week after the House approved a second cannabis legalization bill for the session, one that contains virtually no regulations or limitations on cannabis.

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 Mike Latimer.

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