In the New Hampshire legislature, marijuana legalization bills have a way of dying in committee. Over the past several years, nearly every legislative initiative aimed at losing restrictions on cannabis or legalizing it outright has failed to muster enough committee votes to make it to the floor. But for those who thought 2019 was going to be more of the same, a historic vote Thursday is providing a glimmer of hope that this time, things could be different.
With a Narrow 10-9 Vote to Clear Committee, New Hampshire’s Newest Legalization Bill Will Go Before the Full House
Last year, a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use narrowly escaped the House, only to stall and eventually die in the Senate. Leading the opposition to the 2018 legalization bill in the House, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee pushed to block any vote on legalization. The committee claimed to want further data on the financial impact of legalization. Despite a House voted against the committee’s move to block the bill, it subsequently failed to clear the Senate.
This time, however, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is behind the bill to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis. But just barely. On Thursday, the committee voted 10-9 to send the bill before the House for a full floor debate and vote. It was the first time in New Hampshire history that the committee voted to recommend an end to prohibition.
While New Hampshire lawmakers begin to inch forward on the issue of legal cannabis, the state is watching its entire region move to establish and regulate a commercial cannabis industry. Surrounded on all sides by states that have fully legalized marijuana, and sharing a border with weed-legal Canada, supporters of legalization say New Hampshire has everything to lose and nothing to gain by remaining an island of prohibition.
Will New Hampshire Join the Regional Trend and Legalize Marijuana?
Hence, state Rep. Renny Cushing, chair of the House Criminal Justice committee and principal sponsor of House Bill 481, is proposing a framework to integrate New Hampshire into the rapidly emerging regional cannabis economy.
Rep. Cushing’s bill would legalize up to an ounce of cannabis for personal use and permit home cultivation of up to twelve plants per household. It would tax cannabis at $30 per ounce. Analysts project cannabis taxes could yield between $20 million and $30 million in additional revenue for the state. And the bill would set up a cannabis control commission to establish rules and restrictions to regulate the industry, including a testing component. Following the template in other weed-legal states, the commission would oversee licensing for cultivation, production, retail sales, transportation and testing. Overall, Rep. Cushing says the comprehensive framework would be akin to the way the state currently regulates alcohol.
This time, that framework won the support of a key House committee. But the bill still has a long way to go. Its tax provisions mean it will have to go through the House Ways and Means Committee, for example. Ultimately, however, the narrow victory for HB 481 on Thursday signals it may not have broad enough support among lawmakers.
New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has already vowed to veto the adult use bill if it clears the legislature. In New Hampshire, lawmakers can override a veto with a two-thirds vote in both chambers. A 10-9 victory in committee could mean HB 481 isn’t quite there yet.