New Hampshire Legislators Modify Marijuana Legalization Policy Just Before Vote!
On Tuesday, a committee comprised of New Hampshire politicians working on marijuana legalization legislation gathered to further develop their plan to promote the measure in this session. In a follow-up meeting on Wednesday, we hope to finalize a merged vehicle.
The chair’s proposed amendment to a legalization bill, HB 639, from Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R) and Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm (D), which has been supported by advocates and industry stakeholders, was met with a fair amount of resistance at the outset of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Liquor Subcommittee’s work session.
Chairman John Hunt’s (R) amendment was met with some pushback from the chamber’s rank and file because it departed too significantly from the initial framework of the leadership-driven plan and gave too much regulatory authority to the state Liquor Commission.
At the end of the discussion, however, there appeared to be a readiness to move forward with a few crucial amendments. such as keeping the Liquor Commission in charge of regulating the adult-use market. Plans call for the elimination of language that permits home cultivation and expunges prior convictions for marijuana-related offenses.
Supporters wanted them to remain, but it was understood that any bill including them would never pass the legislature if the governor was opposed to them. Hunt stated, “to pass the law as is, it’s got too many warts on it” during the meeting. A separate home growth bill is being studied by a different House committee, although its chances are unknown at this time.
On Wednesday, the Commerce subcommittee will hold a follow-up work session to decide whether proposed changes will be adopted into HB 639. If the proposal is approved, it will be sent to a third panel before it is considered for implementation on the ground level. In its current form, HB 639 would achieve the following goals:
- The proposed legislation would allow adults over the age of 21 to legally buy, possess, and give away up to four ounces of cannabis, as well as grow up to six plants total, of which only three could be mature at any given time.
- The governor would appoint a Cannabis Commission to oversee the industry and grant licenses to prospective pot businesses.
- A 13-person advisory board would assist the commission and collect public feedback on the proposed cannabis law.
- No limit on the total number of dispensaries across the state would be placed on the industry.
- Within 20 months of the law’s implementation, the commission and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would have to devise a plan to allow adult-use merchants to serve medical marijuana patients with a therapeutic endorsement and convert the state’s existing medical cannabis program.
- Dispensaries for medical marijuana might apply to sell to adults if they could prove that patients’ access would not be hindered and that prices would not go up.
- An 8.5% tax on marijuana for recreational use would be implemented. In the case of cannabis-based medicines, it would be an exception.
- Eighty percent of marijuana tax revenue would finance unfunded pension commitments. After things are paid for, the money would be used to lower property taxes and establish an education trust fund.
- Substance abuse rehabilitation services would receive an additional 10% of the budget. Localities with at least one marijuana merchant would earn five percent, and the remaining five percent would fund public safety organizations.
- People who have been convicted of a misdemeanor or a civil penalty for possession of marijuana would have their records immediately expunged.
- Localities could prohibit or ban marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdiction. They could not ban delivery services, though.
- There would be employment protections for state or local government personnel who use marijuana off the job. The usage of cannabis would not be grounds for revoking a person’s professional or vocational license.
- Possession and home growing would become legal upon passage, and dispensaries would have a year to comply with new regulations that would allow them to become dual retailers, but the latter would not be possible until after the former was passed.
- State-level taxation systems would allow marijuana businesses to write off certain costs.
On Tuesday, the committee chair stated that after the committee passes a finalized measure, the members can consider another legalization bill, HB 544, which he believes has a higher chance of becoming law.
Rep. Daniel Eaton‘s (D) House Bill 544 proposes a system in which the retail marijuana market is administered by the government, with the Liquor Commission in charge of regulating and overseeing the “cultivation, production, testing, and retail sale of cannabis statewide.”
At the meeting on Tuesday, a representative from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services expressed concern that it was too soon to take a stance on the proposal, given the committee’s indecision regarding the way forward.
He expressed doubt that the Liquor Commission was the right regulatory authority for the task because it would be difficult for the department to form an independent division that could administer the program within the timetable required by HB 639.
Members were guided by Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire, who explained the potential effects of each plan on the state’s current medical cannabis shops.
In a phone interview with Marijuana Moment, he expressed his “encouragement” at the route the discussion has taken, where members appear to be closer to alignment on a bill that can pass. Simon also mentioned that changes were expected to be made to HB 639 to require testing to be conducted by labs that are separate from cannabis production organizations.
However, additional legalization legislation has been introduced this year as well, including more minimal plans to remove cannabis from the state’s prohibited substances list and allow non-commercial home cultivation for adults. There is hope that this year will be the year that legalization in New Hampshire finally moves, but supporters still have their work cut out for them.
After last year’s election, Republicans maintained control of both houses of Congress. Despite widespread support for legalization among House members, marijuana reform has consistently met with resistance in the Senate. This past year, the Senate voted down two reform initiatives that had previously passed the House.
One bill would have established a medical cannabis program, while the other would have legalized commercial cannabis activity under a state-run framework. There have been some changes in the Senate that bode well for reform. For instance, a Democratic senator who voted against legalization attempts in the House was replaced with a Republican who had previously voted in support of repealing prohibition.
Despite being reelected last year, Republican Governor Chris Sununu still opposes legalization. However, his latest comments on the subject suggest a shift in his stance. Reform “may be unavoidable,” he said during a debate last year, but states should “be patient about how you do it.” Legalization wording was introduced as an amendment to a separate criminal justice-related bill in the House after the Senate rejected two reform bills the previous year; this bill was also rejected by the Senate.
The rejected non-commercial legalization legislation had already cleared the House under Democratic rule in 2020, but it was defeated in the Senate at the committee stage. Separate bills were introduced in the legislature with the goal of having marijuana legalization on the 2022 ballot, but they were both shot down by the House.