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With Deadline Looming, New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Conference Committee Makes Slow Progress Toward Deal



At a conference committee meeting on Wednesday, lawmakers from New Hampshire’s Senate and House of Representatives made slow progress toward a potential deal to legalize marijuana, reaching agreement on a few key issues. But the panel still has more details to hammer out ahead of a deadline on Thursday.

Both chambers have already passed separate versions of legislation to create a regulated cannabis market in the state. If the conference committee can agree on a compromise bill by this week’s deadline, the measure would go back to each legislative chamber for an up-or-down vote before possibly proceeding to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

If Sununu were to sign a compromise bill into law, New Hampshire would become the 25th U.S. state to legalize marijuana for adults.

The panel will meet again late Thursday morning.

For the most part, the conference committee is working off a version of the bill passed last month by the Senate. On Tuesday, during the conference committee’s first meeting, House lawmakers unveiled four changes they wanted to see made: lowering the proposed state surcharge on cannabis sales from 15 percent to 12.5 percent, providing licensing priority to existing medical marijuana businesses, adjusting rules around passengers consuming cannabis in vehicles and immediately decriminalizing up to two ounces of marijuana—the eventual personal possession limit—to compensate for a Senate change that delayed the formal legalization of possession until 2026.

At the start of Wednesday’s second meeting, senators on the panel agreed to two of those adjustments, adding licensing priority for applicants with in-state experience and eliminating penalties for vehicle passengers who consume marijuana in ways other than smoking or vaping.

But other sticking points still remain. The Senate contingent said it’s unwilling to negotiate a lower state surcharge on marijuana purchases than 15 percent, and senators said they’re also hesitant to expand decriminalization. Senate President Jeb Bradley (R), a member of the panel, vocally opposed increasing the possession threshold.

Currently, possession of up to three quarters of an ounce of cannabis is punishable by a $100 fine.

“Speaking for myself, I’m going to have a very hard time going to two ounces,” Bradley told the panel.

“Help us out here, Jeb,” Rep. John Hunt (R) pushed back, arguing that the change would have little practical impact. Based on conversations with the local prosecutor in his district, he said, “they don’t prosecute anybody for possession anymore. That just doesn’t happen.”

If the change would win more votes for the bill in the legislature, “why not?” Hunt asked.

“Just to use your own logic against you,” Bradley replied, “if they’re not being prosecuted, why do it?”

Bradley has said repeatedly during the session that he personally opposes legalization. At one point, he told local reporters that he hoped the legislation would die in his chamber. But he’s also said along the way that if the proposal has the votes to pass, he wants to make what he sees as improvements.

“I’m not here to get people to vote for it,” he said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I’m here to protect public health and safety.”

On the other hand, though Bradley is now in a position to singlehandedly kill the bill—all conference committee members must sign off for the measure to advance—he gave the clearest indication so far on Wednesday that may indeed vote in its favor.

“If the Senate position is adhered to, I will sign the committee of conference report,” he said, “because I believe it better protects public health and safety than the other versions. Anything that undermines that makes it very difficult for me.”

Hunt, for his part, urged colleagues to keep the process moving along. When Sen. Tim Lang (R) at one point said the Senate contingent wouldn’t be ready to give a final answer on the House-proposed change on Wednesday, Hunt replied: “Well, we have to come to the answer within the next 24 hours.”

Hunt also urged Rep. Anita Burroughs (D) to immediately prepare a new House suggestion she raised concerning the makeup of a cannabis regulatory body —drafting it during the hearing itself—rather than bring it back to the committee on Thursday.

“Do it right now,” he implored her.

That proposed change, which senators also said they’re considering, would add at least two more industry representatives to the would-be marijuana regulatory board. Hunt explained that critics feel the currently proposed makeup is “more regulatory and more in terms of restricting the industry” and want to see businesses have more of a voice.

Lawmakers also briefly discussed how the bill would integrate existing medical marijuana businesses—known in New Hampshire as alternative treatment centers (ATCs)—though they did not propose any specific changes at the meeting, instead planning to return to the matter on Thursday. House members want to clarify the ability of ATCs to convert to for-profit entities if they choose to enter the recreational market.

The panel’s discussion on tax rates highlighted a key difference in how lawmakers understand the effects of legalization. Some members said taxes should be low in order for legal stores to better compete with the state’s existing illicit market. Bradley, however, said he would oppose any rate cuts, arguing that legalization will increase public health and law enforcement costs.

“Based on everything I’ve read, the black market is precipitated by legalization,” he asserted. “And while tax policy might be a factor in that, I think legalization is probably the primary driver.”

“Really?” Hunt asked skeptically. “All these years, when everyone has been buying it illegally—you’re saying that it’s actually increased since then?”

“Really,” Bradley replied.

Another panelist, Rep. Jason Osborne (R), asked the Senate president, “What does the black market for alcohol and tobacco look like?”

“Good question,” Bradley answered. “It’s a lot harder to distill spirits than it is to grow marijuana.”

“Man, I bet there’d be some disagreement in the audience on that,” Osborne said.

From the Senate, the conference committee included Sens. Bradley, Lang and Shannon Chandley (D). On the House side, members were Reps. Hunt, Osborne, Burroughs and Carrie Spier (D).

The governor, for his part, has said he’s personally opposed to legalization but sees the change as inevitable. He’s previously said that he would accept legislation based on the Senate-passed version of the bill provided House lawmakers make no major adjustments.

If the bill, HB 1633, does become law, it would allow 15 stores to open statewide beginning in 2026 through a novel state-run franchise system. Though stores would be privately run, the government would oversee operations. Purchases would incur a 15 percent “franchise fee”—effectively a tax—that would apply to both adult-use and medical marijuana purchases.

Marijuana possession wouldn’t become legal until 2026, once the state’s licensed market is up and running. That same year, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana would become fully legal.

The proposal would limit each municipality to only a single cannabis retail establishment unless it’s home to more than 50,000 people. 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.

Home cultivation of cannabis for personal use would remain illegal, and the state’s Liquor Commission would have the authority to enforce that provision.

Smoking or vaping marijuana in public would be a violation on the first offense and an misdemeanor for second or subsequent offenses within five years, a charge that could carry jail time. Consuming cannabis in other forms in public—for example, drinking a THC-infused beverage—would carry no punishment, unlike open container rules around alcohol.

For someone driving a car, the bill would outlaw consumption of cannabis by any means. Passengers would be forbidden from smoking or vaping cannabis.

Driving under the influence of marijuana would remain a crime under both versions of the bill.

By contrast, the version of the bill passed by the House in April would have legalize through a so-called “agency store” model preferred by the bill’s original sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R). Under that approach, the state would oversee a system of privately run stores, with strict limits on marketing and advertising. That version also included a higher personal possession limit of four ounces, and medical marijuana would be been exempt from the state surcharge. Further, personal possession would have become legal immediately.

Most legalization and criminal justice advocates preferred the House bill, though they did welcome some licensing provision changes in the Senate version.

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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