A New Hampshire House committee on Wednesday discussed a bill to legalize marijuana that’s being sponsored by top Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
A House Commerce and Consumer Affairs subcommittee briefly talked about the chair’s proposal to significantly amend the legislation from Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R) and Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm (D) during a work session.
The bipartisan leaders’ introduced version of the bill would create a system of licensed and privately operated cannabis businesses—but the subcommittee is now considering an amendment that merges its provisions with a separate bill that in its current form would put marijuana sales in state-run dispensaries.
“I think this amendment will hopefully survive the test of time when it goes over to the other body and to the governor’s office because it is definitely a hybrid,” Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman John Hunt (R) said on Wednesday.
He added that the legislation, which he hopes will serve as a committee amendment supported by all members, will be taken up for a formal vote in the panel next week.
Advocates expect that the legalization bill from Osborne, who has historically championed marijuana reform in the state, has the best chance of being the vehicle to advance legalization in the GOP-controlled legislature. But there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what its provisions will ultimately look like.
Hunt’s proposed amendment that he circulated would make several changes to the Osborne bill, HB 639. While it would keep cannabis businesses private and not government-owned, they would be regulated by the state Liquor Commission instead of a new separate Cannabis Commission as under the legislation as filed.
It would also remove provisions allowing home cultivation and annulling past marijuana convictions, among other changes.
Here’s what HB 639 as introduced would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older would be able to purchase, possess and gift up to four ounces of cannabis and also grow up to six plants, only three of which could be mature.
A governor-appointed Cannabis Commission would be established to regulate the market and issue marijuana business licenses.
There would also be a 13-member advisory board that would support the commission and gather public input on the cannabis law.
There would not be any statewide cap on the number of marijuana businesses that could be licensed.
The commission and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would be responsible for coming up with a plan within 20 months of enactment to transition the state’s existing medical cannabis program and let adult-use retailers service medical marijuana patients if they get a therapeutic endorsement. Medical cannabis dispensaries could also apply to serve adult consumers if they demonstrate that patient access wouldn’t be compromised and that there wouldn’t be price hikes.
Adult-use marijuana sales would be subject to an 8.5 percent tax. That would not apply to medical cannabis products.
Eighty percent of marijuana tax revenue would support unfunded pension liabilities. One those are funded, the revenue would go to an education trust fund and property tax relief. Another 10 percent of revenue would be allocated for substance misused treatment. Localities with at least one marijuana retailer would get five percent, and the remaining five percent would support public safety agencies.
People with prior marijuana misdemeanor convictions or civil violations for cannabis possession would have their records automatically annulled.
Localities could limit or ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area. They could not ban delivery services, however.
There would be employment protections for state or local government workers who use marijuana off the job. Professional and occupational licenses couldn’t be denied or withdrawn because a person uses cannabis.
The legalization of possession and home cultivation would take effect immediately upon enactment, while regulators would have a year to promulgate rules to allow dispensaries to convert to dual retailers.
Marijuana companies could deduct business expenses from their taxes at the state level.
The separate government-run-stores measure from Rep. Daniel Eaton (D) would authorize the Liquor Commission “to regulate and administer the cultivation, manufacture, testing, and retail sale of cannabis statewide.”
Hunt’s proposed merger would put the body—newly renamed as the Liquor and Cannabis Commission—in charge of regulating the legal marijuana market, but it wouldn’t run the stores. Because there would be no independent advisory board, some advocates are concerned that the commission’s authority would be too broad with minimal oversight.
“The original bill was developed by a broad, diverse coalition based on best practices and lessons learned from other states,” Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire, told Marijuana Moment, referring to HB 639 as filed. “It’s sad to see that some legislators want to scrap it in favor of an amendment that makes little sense. Why would New Hampshire want to make bad cannabis policies when we know it is so easy to make good policies?”
Members received text of the proposed hybrid bill ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
“The people of the state of New Hampshire find and declare that the use of cannabis by a person 21 years of age or older should be legal and subject to reasonable regulations,” the findings section says. “In the interest of the health and public safety of our citizenry, the people of the state of New Hampshire further find and declare that cannabis should be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol.”
Aside from the two measures being potentially merged, several other legalization bills have also been filed this session, including barebones proposals to remove cannabis from the state’s controlled substances list and allow non-commercial home cultivation for adults.
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While there’s optimism about the prospects of legalization finally moving in the Granite State this year, advocates still have work cut out for them.
Republicans held on to the both the House and Senate after last year’s election, and the latter chamber is where marijuana reform has faced its toughest obstacles in past sessions even as the House has repeatedly approved legalization bills. The Senate rejected two House-passed reform bills last year, including one that would have created a non-commercial cannabis program and another providing for commerce under a state-run model.
In the Senate, there were some shifts that favor reform. For example, a Democratic senator who opposed legalization efforts was replaced by a Republican who voted in favor of ending prohibition during his time as a House member.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who was reelected last year, remains opposed to legalization—but his more recent comments on the issue seem to show a softening of his position. He said during a debate last year that reform “could be inevitable,” but he added that states need to “be patient about how you do it.”
After the Senate rejected two reform bills last year, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation—but that was also struck down in the opposite chamber.
The non-commercial legalization measure that was defeated had previously passed the House under Democratic control in 2020 but was defeated in the Senate at the committee stage.
Lawmakers also filed separate bills to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot, but the House rejected them.
Read the text of the proposed committee amendment to the New Hampshire legalization bill below:
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