A New Hampshire House of Representatives committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize the use of cannabis by adults. The House Ways and Means Committee voted 14-6 to recommend passage of the measure, House Bill 481. The full House voted 209-147 on February 27 to approve the bill but referred it back to the committee for further consideration of the tax and regulatory structure. The House must approve the measure again before an April 4 deadline to be considered in the state Senate.
If passed, HB 481 would legalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and up to five grams of hashish or concentrates for adults 21 and older. Home cultivation of up to six plants and possession of the cannabis harvested from a home grow would also be allowed. The bill would also establish a regulatory framework for commercial cannabis production and sales.
Matt Simon, the New England political director for cannabis law reform group the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release that approval from the House Ways and Means Committee was a promising show of support.
“This is a major step forward and suggests support and momentum are growing in the legislature,” Simon said. “In previous years, this committee’s negative recommendations turned out to be death sentences for legalization bills that had initially received approval from the full House. This time around, it has given its blessing to a proposal that received record-high support. It’s time for the House to approve HB 481 and send it over to the Senate.”
Committee Amends Tax Rates
Before voting to approve the bill, the committee amended the tax structure to enact a 5 tax on cannabis cultivators and a 9 percent tax on retailers. The original version of the bill called for a tax on cultivators of $30 per ounce of marijuana.
With Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont already approving legalization bills and movements to do the same in New York and New Jersey, the Northeast is joining the West as a hotbed of cannabis reform.
“There is a growing sentiment that prohibition is not working and that legalization is inevitable, both in New Hampshire and the surrounding region,” Simon said. “With HB 481, lawmakers have developed a sensible path forward for the state. This was evidenced by the strong majority support we saw during the initial House vote, and it was confirmed by the committee’s about-face compared to previous years.”
Rep. Patrick Abrami, who served as the chairman of a legislative commission to study cannabis legalization last year, opposes the bill. He said that he is afraid that state and local governments will become dependent on tax revenues generated by cannabis businesses.
“Just because states around us are legalizing doesn’t mean we have to do it,” said Abrami.
Gov. Chris Sununu has indicated that he will veto any cannabis legalization bill passed by the legislature. But House Speaker Steve Shurtleff believes that a veto could be overridden in the House, and similar action by the Senate is also possible, according to media reports.