New Hampshire’s Senate majority leader is strongly signaling that a House-passed marijuana legalization bill will be defeated on the floor this week after a key committee voted against it on Tuesday. And reported plans to file an amendment to legalize cannabis through a state-run model that the governor’s office allegedly advised on (but has since denied) do not seem to be materializing.
Advocates were disappointed by Senate Judiciary Committee’s party-line vote in opposition to the comprehensive legalization measure from bipartisan House leaders. But that didn’t formally kill the legislation, which will still be taken up on the floor on Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Sharon Carson (R), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement following her panel’s vote that New Hampshire is “grappling with the devastating impact of the drug crisis on individuals, families, and communities.”
“While I recognize the diverse opinions surrounding the legalization of recreational drugs, now is not the right time for such a measure,” she said.
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Gov. Chris Sununu (R) shares that sentiment, raising even greater doubts about the prospects of legalization this session. He said last week that the state should only consider the policy change after its addressed other drug-related issues.
“You don’t legalize more drugs for money,” he said. “That’s not why you do it. You’d do it because of harm reduction, the opportunities for citizens.”
Senate President Jeb Bradley (R) has also said that he’d oppose the legislation and predicted that it would fail on the floor.
HB 639 is one of several cannabis legalization proposals that have been introduced in recent sessions. The Judiciary Committee also defeated a non-commercial legalization bill on Tuesday, as well as a measure to allow medical cannabis patients to grow their own plants.
The proposals were previously discussed at a hearing that the panel scheduled on the cannabis holiday 4/20 last month.
While the standalone legislation seems positioned for defeat in the Senate, which also rejected House-passed reform proposals last year and in several past sessions, WMUR reported on Tuesday that lawmakers negotiated a separate legalization amendment that the governor would support if enacted on the floor.
A lawmaker with knowledge of negotiations on cannabis legalization tells @WMUR9 that @TheNHSenate has an amendment in hand that, if passed, would be supported by @GovChrisSununu. However, the Governor’s office says he is “unaware of any legalization amendment.” #NHPolitics #WMUR pic.twitter.com/jolGiYQ2cL
— Adam Sexton (@AdamSextonWMUR) May 9, 2023
However, a spokesperson for the governor said that they were “unaware of any legalization amendment.” And a source familiar with discussions told Marijuana Moment that they do not expect the amendment to be introduced at all at this point.
What it would have done, the source said, is enact a state-run marijuana market, in line with legislation that passed the House last year.
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R), sponsor of HB 639, implied that he’d be willing to hold up Senate-passed bills that sit in his chamber if senators continued “kicking the can down the road” on marijuana reform.
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
The likely failure of the legalization bill—which passed the House with more than two-thirds of the vote last month—is a disappointment to advocates who had hoped that certain changes to Senate membership after last year’s election might tilt the scale in favor of marijuana reform.
Sen. Dan Innis (R) is one of the GOP freshmen senators who’s been amenable to reform, though he told The Boston Globe that he’s “something of a swing vote” on the specific pending bill who’s received “some pressure” from people on both sides of the issue. He declined to say how he would vote on the floor.
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.
Previous House-approved bill that have stalled in the Senate would have enacted non-commercial and state-run marijuana laws.
After the Senate rejected those 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.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.