Bipartisan and bicameral New Hampshire lawmakers have reached an agreement on creating a commission that will study the feasibility of legalizing marijuana through a state-run model and proposing legislation to enact the reform.
Members of a House-Senate conference committee voted on Wednesday to incorporate the cannabis commission compromise into a bill that must now be approved on the floor of both chambers by a legislative deadline of June 29.
The legislation that the committee took up initially only required a commission to study the novel state stores idea for cannabis, a model that the Republican governor recently endorsed. But it was revised in Wednesday’s conference committee meeting to include a mandate for the body to take its findings and draft a state-run legalization measure that legislators could then consider when they reconvene for the second half of the two-year session in January.
If the revised bill is passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor, the commission’s work will be due December 1.
The conference committee also agreed to amend the bill to remove two commission members that had been initially proposed by the Senate—one representing the New Hampshire Cannabis Association and another representing Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs).
Those organizations, among other stakeholders, will still be invited to testify as the commission carries out its responsibilities, but one conferee who pushed for further downsizing of the body argued that the revised makeup “seems a little undemocratic,” given that it would still include membership from anti-drug groups that are almost certain to oppose any final legislative product that would legalize cannabis.
The conferee, House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman John Hunt (R), has worked extensively on marijuana reform issues this year—including recent efforts to reach a compromise on legislation 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.
Hunt’s panel reached an impasse on the complex legislation, which was being considered following Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) surprise announcement that he backs state-run legalization and after the Senate defeated a more conventional, House-passed legalization bill from the chamber’s bipartisan leadership.
The chairman said during the conference committee meeting on Wednesday that he’d hoped that they could amend HB 611 by creating a more streamlined legislative committee of appointed lawmakers, rather than the broader commission of legislators and outside stakeholders. But the commission was ultimately maintained, amid Senate conferees’ insistence, albeit by excluding the two cannabis advocacy and industry representatives.
Sen. Becky Whitley (D) also voiced concern about the amended language to expand the body’s responsibilities to include a mandate to develop legislation on establishing a state-controlled cannabis market. She said that doing so was “putting the cart before the horse,” because she doesn’t think “there’s agreement that this is the model” that’s right for New Hampshire.
But in the interest of setting the legislature up to potentially act on the unique reform next year, the committee ultimately agreed to the revised language requiring the commission to come up with a proposal based on its study findings.
“I’m encouraged that they agreed that more study is necessary,” Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire, told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday.
“The state-controlled model is a novel concept that has not been tried in any state, so we do need to vet it thoroughly before we consider enacting it,” he said. “I look forward to participating in the process.”
(Disclosure: Simon supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)
While there currently aren’t any examples of state-controlled cannabis markets in the U.S., a bill to enact such a system did pass the New Hampshire House last year—only to be unanimously defeated in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the underlying legislation that the legalization study commission provisions have been attached to would remove an existing requirement that pain patients try opioid-based treatments first before receiving a medical cannabis recommendation for their condition.
It also includes provisions to clarify that the state’s hemp law is not intended to authorize the sale of hemp-derived intoxicating products, such as delta-8 THC.
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Last month, the House separately defeated a different marijuana legalization amendment that was being proposed as part of a Medicaid expansion bill.
Also, the Senate moved to table another piece of legislation last 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 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.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.