New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill, Though Senate Hurdles Remain On Way To Governor’s Desk - Read of Green
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New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill, Though Senate Hurdles Remain On Way To Governor’s Desk

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Source: Marijuana Moment

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has passed a bill that would legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana. While the body has approved cannabis legalization legislation a number of times in recent sessions that has gone on to die in the Senate, supporters are hopeful that the latest measure can finally pass the opposite chamber and curry favor with Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

House lawmakers approved HB 1633, sponsored by Rep. Erica Layon (R), on a 239–141 vote Thursday. In its current form, it would allow adults 21 and older to buy marijuana from one of up to 15 licensed stores across the state. Possession of up to four ounces of cannabis, 10 grams of concentrate or 2,000 milligrams of THC in other forms would be allowed under the proposal.

The bill is a departure from the state-run model supported by Sununu, and it does not include a prohibition on lobbying by the industry that his office urged lawmakers to include late last year. Layon has said those aspects of the governor’s preferred approach could risk legal liability.

Since introducing the bill, however, she’s spent recent weeks working to build consensus with Senate counterparts and members of a state study commission convened last year to propose legalization legislation of its own—a task it failed to complete before a deadline in December.

“There’s a lot of people in the state who currently use cannabis,” Layon said before the House floor vote. “I really don’t think the number is going to increase much by passing this bill.”

“We’re concerned about those people who are buying it on the black market and they’re buying product that’s contaminated by fentanyl because of poor product handling,” she said. “Cannabis is here. The question is whether or not we provide an outlet for people who are currently turning to the streets a way to buy it in the state, and we keep some of the sales here in New Hampshire.”

Despite Layon’s recent efforts to craft a consensus bill, it drew criticism from some lawmakers.

“Now is not the time to pass marijuana legislation in the state of New Hampshire. There’s more than just marijuana issues on this bill,” said Rep. Tim Cayhill (R). “There’s mental health issues on this bill. There’s supporting our law enforcement on this bill. There’s homelessness issues on this bill. There’s many reasons that everyone in here could find to not pass marijuana legislation in the state of New Hampshire.”

Before the vote on the bill itself, the House approved an amendment from the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee that was the result of Layon’s negotiations with senators.

Rep. Jonah Wheeler (D) urged lawmakers to defeat the committee amendment, saying it is a “fundamental change to the bill that I cosponsored.”

“If this amendment passes, and the bill becomes law as amended, an individual who wants to go buy cannabis for recreational reasons will have to go to one of the 15 agency stores approved by the state and buy cannabis from a state-sanctioned distributor,” he said. “That is not the free market.”

Layon responded by saying she recognizes “the challenges identified by my colleague” but noted that in order to get legalization enacted into law, any plan will have to pass muster in the Senate and with the governor.

“Our question is do we pass something that is makes a lot of us happy here in a free market situation,” she said, “or do we pass something that meets the outlines that are actually laid out for legalization to happen in New Hampshire and for us to stop being an island of prohibition?”

“It’s a compromise,” she said. “Every single person in a seat here can find a reason to vote against the amendment and to vote against the bill. But the question is, do we have a net benefit to the state by passing this?”

The committee amendment was adopted by a vote of 263-116.

After being approved by the full House, the measure next heads to the body’s Finance Committee and will then come back to the floor for one more vote before heading to the Senate.

The Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee approved the amendment to the bill last week on a bipartisan, 17–3 vote. When the legislation first landed in that panel, chair Rep. John Hunt (R), a member of last year’s study commission, initially warned Layon that if she didn’t get support from Senate lawmakers, the proposal would be dead on arrival.

In a majority report for the House committee, Rep. Anita Burroughs (D) wrote that the bill would initially open 15 stores, though additional retail licenses could be authorized later on. It sets strict limits on products and sales, the report says, which focusing on transitioning into a legal market.

“Many years of work have led to this effort, which focuses the State of NH on harm reduction, not profits, and allows the state to control distribution and access through state laws, administrative rules, and local control,” the report says. “The legalization of cannabis will move production and sales from the underground, sometimes dangerous, illicit market to legal businesses, allowing for appropriate regulations and control.”

Burroughs said before last week’s committee vote that the bill is “not 100 percent of what anybody wants,” but she warned that the state is “taking a crapshoot if we don’t pass it this year” given the upcoming election in November.

Unlike in most states, general purpose advertising would be banned outright, including on billboards and social media. Layon has said advertisements on marijuana-specific platforms like Weedmaps, however, would be allowed in order to allow consumers to find the stores.

Companies could not use slang to promote marijuana or encourage overconsumption, for example through the use of a logo showing someone with bloodshot eyes. And regulators could limit business names and other marketing.

The plan includes a narrow allowance for for certain vaporization devices, though it also allows regulators to prohibit “types of vaporizers that are particularly likely to be utilized by minors without detection.” It specifies that regulators may not ban “or unreasonably restrict” vaporizers categorically, however.

Layon’s proposal would further allow people to petition to have past criminal records annulled if the charges were for possession of less than what’s legal after the change. The lawmaker said earlier this month that she’s been in discussions with ACLU representatives on the issue.

For opponents on the committee, Rep. Lilli Walsh (R) wrote in a minority report that the proposal “is still not ready or suitable for the citizens of New Hampshire.”

“Introducing drastic cultural change, increased healthcare costs, and significant societal impact is not in the best interest of the state,” the report says. “Additionally, the unambiguous question of creating conflict with federal law specifically regarding the sale and distribution of a federally controlled substance, has not been addressed.”

Some outside voices have also criticized certain elements of the bill. ACLU of New Hampshire Executive Director Devon Chaffee said in committee, for example, that she opposes how the latest changes to the bill would penalize public consumption of marijuana.

Nevertheless, as the bill moves forward, some observers say they’re grateful for the leadership Layon has demonstrated in bringing together people with different views.

“Overall I think this bill’s in a much better place than I could have imagined a few weeks ago,” Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at medical marijuana provider GraniteLeaf Cannabis, told Marijuana Moment. “Rep. Layon has done an outstanding job talking to all the stakeholders, talking to senators, trying to talk to the governor’s office.”

“She spent a lot of time and effort on this,” he added, “trying to understand what the study commission wanted and trying to understand what potential objections are…and trying to come up with a compromise that can actually find the sweet spot.”

(Disclosure: Simon supports Marijuana Moment’s work via a monthly Patreon pledge.)

The House has repeatedly passed legalization bills in recent sessions only to see them consistently stall in the Senate.

Lawmakers worked extensively on marijuana reform issues last session and attempted to reach a compromise to enact legalization through a multi-tiered system that would include state-controlled shops, dual licensing for existing medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses privately licensed to individuals by state agencies.

But the legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation, which was being considered following Sununu’s surprise announcement that he backed state-run legalization.

The Senate also defeated a more conventional House-passed legalization bill last year, HB 639, despite its bipartisan support.

In May, the House separately defeated a different marijuana legalization amendment that was being proposed as part of a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also moved to table another piece of legislation that month that would have allowed patients and designated caregivers to cultivate up to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings for personal therapeutic use.

After the Senate rejected the reform bills in 2022, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation—but that was also struck down in the opposite chamber.

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