Legalization Bill Advanced in New Hampshire House

The New Hampshire measure still has a long way to go for final approval.

Lawmakers in the New Hampshire House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to move forward with legislation that would legalize recreational cannabis in the Granite State.

Members of the House voted 234-127 to advance the bill to a committee for further consideration. 

The measure “would make possession and use of cannabis legal for adults 21 and older,” while empowering “existing alternative treatment centers to expand their role in marijuana production to supply local retailers, with the Liquor Commission potentially taking on a greater oversight role,” according to local news station WMUR.

Wednesday’s approval in the House of Representatives was described as the “first big test” by local news station NECN, but the legislation still looks like a long-shot to become law. 

Republicans control the New Hampshire legislature, known as the state General Court, but the two chambers have long been split on the issue of marijuana legalization. 

While the House has pushed for an end to prohibition, the state Senate has not been on board.

After members of the state House approved a legalization bill last year, the measure was promptly voted down in the state Senate by a vote of 15-9.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, meanwhile, has been consistently averse to the policy.

“I’ve always said now’s not the time. Every state does it very different. I’ve always wanted to see what works and what doesn’t,” Sununu said last year during a debate in the state’s gubernatorial race. “There may be a way to do it but given that we are facing an opioid crisis, given that we still don’t know what works with other states, it could be inevitable, I get it, but you got to be patient about how you do it and the steps that are best for New Hampshire.”

Last month, the governor’s office dismissed the latest legalization proposal’s chances.

“It’s failed in the Senate repeatedly, in both Republican-held years and Democrat-held years,” the governor’s office said. “With teen drug use and overdoses on the rise, it is not anticipated that the legislature will see this as a time to ignore the data and move it forward.”

Advocates of the proposal in the state House of Representatives contend that New Hampshire is losing out on potential tax revenue to other states throughout the northeast that have already legalized recreational cannabis. 

“I want to make sure that New Hampshire citizens don’t have to go out of state to practice ‘Live Free or Die,'” said Republican state House Rep. John Hunt, as quoted by local news station NECN.

According to the station, “other supporters said the bill would ensure the safety of cannabis and would allow for significant local input in the permitting and licensing of facilities,” while opponents to the measure “focused on the danger of teen use and noted strong opposition from the law enforcement community.”

“Don’t be fooled by the addiction-for-profit industry that claims tax revenue will solve all our budget problems,” said GOP state House Rep. Lilli Walsh, as quoted by NECN. “It will change our state in unimaginable ways, none of which promote the common good.”

The latest legalization bill approved by the House on Wednesday “would put the state’s Liquor Commission in charge of regulating marijuana, with a 15% tax levied at the cultivation level,” while most “of the tax revenue would go toward reducing the state’s pension liability and the state’s education trust fund, with some set aside substance abuse prevention programs and police training.”

Polls have shown that legalization enjoys broad support among New Hampshire voters. 

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