Legalization Bill Moves Ahead in New Hampshire

After its narrow passage in the state House, the New Hampshire legislation faces a tougher test in the Senate.
New Hampshire

A bill that would legalize recreational cannabis in New Hampshire won approval in the state’s House of Representatives in a tough vote last week.

The House voted 169-156 on Thursday to “to approve a bill that would allow for the sale of cannabis at state-run liquor stores,” according to local television station WCAX, which noted that the bill would legalize only cannabis flower and not edibles.

The bill now joins a separate piece of cannabis reform legislation in the state Senate, where the appetite for legalization may not be as great as it is in the House. Republicans control both chambers of the Granite State’s legislature, but as New Hampshire Public Radio noted, no legalization bill has ever passed the state Senate.

Leaders there say that any bid to end pot prohibition in this session will likely face stiff headwinds.

“I think the Senate has always opposed legalizing marijuana and I think that’s still the same right now,” state Senate President Chuck Morse told New Hampshire Public Radio. “I think there is a concept here that people want to try to understand.”

Adding another wrinkle to the political dynamics is the state’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu.

Sununu has expressed his opposition to legalization in the past, but he made comments last month that signaled a possible shift. And last year, Sununu signed a bill that broadened qualifying conditions for medical cannabis treatment in the state.

Addressing the New England Council last month, “Sununu gave an off-the-cuff response to a question where, for the first time publicly, he significantly softened his stance, especially as it relates to a specific bill being debated in the legislature,” the Boston Globe reported.

“I think it’s going to ultimately happen in New Hampshire, it could be inevitable,” Sununu said, as quoted by the Globe, although he insisted he is “not pro-legalization.”

And with regard to the bill that passed the New Hampshire state House last week, Sununu said this: “If you are ever going to do it, do that bill. Is now the right time? I am not sure yet.”

But before the bill even makes it to the governor’s desk, it will have to clear the state Senate, where even the top Democrat has some concerns with the legislation.

That lawmaker, state Sen. Donna Soucy, told New Hampshire Public Radio that the bill’s “core concept — allowing the liquor commission to sell marijuana — is a problem.”

“Whether the state should be in the business of marijuana is something a lot of us have hesitancy about,” Soucy said, as quoted by the outlet.

A poll released last month found that a huge majority of New Hampshire voters (68%) support the legalization bill that would authorize the liquor commission to regulate cannabis. 

It isn’t the only cannabis reform bill that will go before the state Senate though. Another proposal that won approval in the state House would legalize home cultivation and personal possession of cannabis, but would not authorize sales.

As detailed in the bill’s analysis, the measure would “[permit] adults to possess up to 3/4 of an ounce of cannabis, 5 grams of hashish, and certain cannabis-infused products; permits adults to cultivate up to 6 cannabis plants at home in a secure location that is not visible from other properties, and to possess and process the cannabis produced from their plants at the same location; permits adults to give cannabis to other adults, provided it is not more than 3/4 of an ounce of cannabis, 5 grams of hashish, or up to 300 mg of cannabis-infused products, or 3 immature plants; provides that smoking or vaporizing cannabis in public by an adult would be punishable by a $100 fine; provides that violations of the restrictions on cultivation would be a violation punishable by fine of up to $750; penalizes dangerous, volatile extraction; and permits adults to possess, make, and sell cannabis accessories to other adults.”

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