New Hampshire Panel Adopts Changes To Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Full Committee Vote Expected Tuesday - Read of Green
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New Hampshire Panel Adopts Changes To Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Full Committee Vote Expected Tuesday

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Source: Marijuana Moment

A House subcommittee in New Hampshire has moved forward with formally adopting changes to a marijuana legalization bill that members initially approved at a hearing last week, setting up the measure for a full House Finance Committee vote on Tuesday.

At a hearing Monday, a finance subcommittee voted 6–3 to integrate two combined sets of amendments to HB 1633, one from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R), and one from Rep. Peter Leishman (D), the panel’s chair. The subcommittee then voted 6–3 to report the bill to the full Finance Committee.

While the bill’s amended language is not yet publicly available, the measure in its current form would allow 15 retailers to open statewide—one of a number of requirements that Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said last year that a legalization bill would need to include in order to win his support.

The bill would also strictly limit advertising of marijuana and would impose a 10 percent state charge on adult-use purchases. Medical marijuana patients would be exempt.

Generally Layon’s bill would allow stores under a so-called agency store model, which she’s described as a system “where the state requires agreement and compliance from private businesses granted limited licenses by the Liquor Commission beyond the traditional health and safety regulatory role of government.”

It’s an effort to let the state impose significant restrictions on businesses without having a state-run industry, which Layon has said could open New Hampshire to significant legal liability.

Among the changes approved at Monday’s hearing was a severability clause between what Layon has called broad “operational” control over agency stores from what she calls more limited “regulatory” control. Her amendment divides those two roles—regulation and broader operational control—and says that they’re severable. That means that if the federal government decides to go after the state for its day-to-day oversight of the industry, as Layon and others have warned could happen, the state could still preserve its regulatory authority over cannabis businesses. The change would also allow lawmakers in future years to shift away from the agency store model toward a more traditional private marketplace.

“At least if we have these clear lines between the operational control and the regulatory control, there’s an opportunity for the state to pivot if we’ve adopted the wrong model,” she explained of the change last week.

Another change reduced the proposed penalty for public consumption of marijuana. Initially a second or subsequent offense could be charged as an undefined misdemeanor, meaning prosecutors could charge the case as a Class A misdemeanor and seek jail time for a defendant. The bill’s adjusted language specifies that repeat offenses would be charged instead as Class B misdemeanors, which carries up to a $1,200 fine but no possibility of jail time.

Yet another adjustment approved Monday clarifies that enforcement of home cannabis cultivation rules would not be within the purview of regulators at the state’s Liquor Commission.

Some senators, most notably Sen. Daryl Abbas (R)—who chaired a failed state commission on legalization late last year—have warned that the legalization bill in its current form would be dead on arrival in their chamber, because it departs from a state-run franchise model that has the support of Sununu. But at last week’s hearing, members of the House subcommittee rejected a sweeping amendment that would have replaced Layon’s plan with a franchise model.

“If the Senate has problems with passing a bill, I don’t see why we have to do their hard work here for them,” Rep. Chuck Grassie (D) said at the time. “I think they need to debate this. They need to make up their mind on a bill, and they need to send something back to us if we want to see cannabis legalization in the state of New Hampshire.”

Grassie applauded Layon for what what he called “a Herculean effort…to get the governor and the Senate on board.”

Layon told Marijuana Moment after Monday’s vote that she’s continued to work to move her bill closer to what Sununu has said he wants any policy change to include.

“I initially intended that this bill sort of be a counterpoint to what the special committee was going to deliver and what Sen. Abbas was going to introduce,” she said. “The fact that he didn’t introduce it and this is the only shot at legalization this year, I just really wanted to work hard in a good faith effort to get to something that I was comfortable with and that match the requirements of the governor as best I understood them.”

While in past months Layon has said she’s been unable to secure a meeting with Sununu’s representatives to discuss the plan, she said that on Monday she spoke briefly with one of his policy staff and looks forward to hearing his feedback.

“If there’s any last efforts needed to close that gap—that are something that are acceptable to me to move forward in the House—that’s something where I would look into doing a floor amendment in order to close those gaps and get it to something the governor can sign,” Layon said.

Meanwhile at an event last week, Sununu said he thinks legalization is “inevitable” in New Hampshire, adding that policymakers have “seen the mistakes other states have made so as not to walk down that path.”

“People just want the accessibility for adults, keeping it away from kids,” the governor said, according to to the Concord Monitor. “If they can meet those rough stipulations, I would sign it, because I think that’s one of the safest systems you’re going to get.”

He added that as a legalization skeptic, he’s better positioned to consider a thoughtful bill.

“There’s no better person to help design a system that could be fraught with problems and risk specifically to kids than the guy that’s most scared of it,” he said.

Last year Sununu said he supported a system of state-run retail stores, but lawmakers on a state study commission last year instead pivoted to the idea of a franchise system, which Sununu has said he’s willing to entertain. Officials at the Liquor Commission have said it would be far less costly for private franchisees to build out a system of retail stores than to ask the Liquor Commission to take on that task itself.

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. The legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation.

Bicameral lawmakers also convened the state commission tasked with studying legalization and proposing a path forward last year, though the group ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation.

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

Last 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.

Florida Voters Will Decide On Marijuana Legalization In November As Supreme Court Rejects Attorney General’s Move To Block Ballot Measure

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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