New Hampshire Senate Passes Cannabis Legalization Bill

This is the farthest that a cannabis bill has progressed in New Hampshire so far.
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Medical cannabis is legal in New Hampshire, but recreational use has only been decriminalized, not legalized. However, the New Hampshire Senate recently approved of a cannabis legalized bill in a 14-9 vote on May 16, and it’s the farthest that any cannabis legalization bill has reached to date.

If passed into law, House Bill 1633-FN-A would legalize adult-use cannabis for those over 21 years of age, and establish a regulatory framework. This includes a possession allowance limit set at four ounces of cannabis, 10 grams of concentrates, and non-concentrate products up to 2,000 mg THC. Currently, the bill allows for 15 adult-use dispensaries to open up throughout the state in order to avoid market oversaturation.

On May 16, Senators approved and rejected a variety of amendments. One change prevents cannabis business license owners from using their funds to lobby for cannabis legislation, and also bars those individuals from participating in “political activity” or contributing “funds to any entity engaged” in such activities. Another would present the question “Shall we allow the operation of cannabis establishments within the town or city?” to each municipality. A majority “yes” vote would permit retail outlets to open up, while a majority “no” vote would not permit stores to open, and the question cannot be asked again until three years have passed.

Another amendment from Sen. President Jeb Bradley, which he described as his most important amendment, would be to change the proposal of an “advisory board” to that of a “cannabis control commission” in charge of approving rules and regulations. “If we’re going to protect public health, if we’re going to protect the kids in the state of New Hampshire, this board needs to be turned into a control commission,” said Bradley. “Everybody knows I don’t like this bill because of the public health implications. We can make it a little bit better with this amendment.”

During the most recent hearing, Sen. Daryl Abbas explained that there is much more work to be done to flesh out the bill as it progresses. “No cannabis policy will be perfect,” said Abbas during the most recent hearing. He added that the current version of the bill “was drafted to balance the public safety needs of our communities with the legalization of cannabis.” Abbas added that previously there had been “some really, really, really scary policies” in the past, referring to one that would have permitted public smoking outside of the New Hampshire State House.

New Hampshire polls reflect that a majority of residents approve of legalization. “Most of the polls are pretty straightforward, all well over 70 percent on this,” Abbas said.

Sen. Bill Gannon was one legislator who opposed the bill, claiming that it would increase access to drugs throughout the state, making it more accessible to minors, and promote illegal sales. “We are going to change the fabric of New Hampshire if we pass this legislation,” Gannon said.

Bradley also expressed his desire for the bill to be rejected by the Senate. “I don’t want to see it get out of the Senate, period,” he told WMUR. However, he admitted that he will do his best to amend the bill should it become law. “If there are 13 votes for it, I’m gonna try to make it the most user-friendly for New Hampshire,” said Bradley. “So keeping the black market out, making sure the regulatory process is tight, making sure that there is a THC limit on the products that can be sold, and making sure that big marijuana—you know, the same as Big Tobacco—is not dominating the politics of the statehouse. To me that’s really important if it’s going to pass.”

Despite the opposition, advocates celebrated the news and potential future of cannabis in New Hampshire. Organizations such as Marijuana Policy Project praised the move on social media, but urged New Hampshirites to contact state senators and make their voices heard.

Similar reactions were seen when the House approved the bill in April, such as Vicente LLP director of regulatory policy for cannabis and psychedelics, Jen Flanagan. “As with every other state that has legalized cannabis, New Hampshire must work out the details that work for their state and I hope the Senate takes this opportunity to see that safe and legal products are best for the public health and public safety of communities,” Flanagan said.

Next up, House Bill 1633-FN-A will be heard in a second Senate committee, and later receive a second Senate floor vote, before it can be sent back to the House with the new amendments. 

There is still the obstacle of getting the bill passed by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu as well. Last May, Sununu explained his stance on cannabis legalization. “During my years as Governor, a bill to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire has never garnered enough bipartisan support to reach my desk. I have never vetoed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana,” he said in a press statement. “In 2017, I was proud to be the first Governor in New Hampshire history to sign legislation decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana so that no one would go to jail for simple possession. We expanded access to medical marijuana and provided a pathway to annul old convictions for marijuana possession.”

Earlier this month, Sununu reiterated his criteria for signing a cannabis legalization bill. “I laid out the eight or 10 things that I’d like to see in that bill for it to get a signature on my desk,” he said in a WMUR interview. “If they meet those stipulations, I’ll sign it. If they don’t, I won’t.”

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