A New Hampshire commission tasked with preparing legislation to legalize marijuana sales through a system of state-run stores has officially been established, with members being appointed to the panel and a first meeting scheduled for next week.
The governor signed a bill to create the commission earlier this month after bipartisan and bicameral lawmakers reached an agreement to enact the incremental reform in a conference committee.
Now the panel has taken shape, with its 17 members holding mixed records on cannabis policy.
The commission includes five lawmakers from the House, five members from the Senate, a governor’s designee and professionals representing banking, health, law enforcement and civil rights interests.
A first meeting is set for Friday, September 8, and the panel is expected to move quickly to study and draft novel legalization legislation for lawmakers to consider in the second half of the two-year legislative session that begins in January. The commission’s work will be due December 1.
“Polling has shown that the vast majority, more than 70 percent, of New Hampshire residents support the legalization of marijuana for adults,” Sen. Becky Whitley (D), one of the appointed commission members who has championed comprehensive legalization in the state, told Marijuana Moment.
“In recent years, legalization bills have passed in the state House of Representatives, but have fallen short in the state Senate. My hope is that my colleagues on the Commission will listen to our constituents and come to the table with real solutions to stop the cycle of harm caused by enforcing marijuana prohibition,” she said. “New Hampshire is the only state in New England that hasn’t legalized and regulated cannabis for adults.”
“Establishing a responsible and regulated adult use market for cannabis here in New Hampshire is not only good public policy, but will bring significant revenues to the state, recapturing revenue that is currently fleeing our state to neighboring states,” Whitley added. “I look forward to getting to work.”
A large part of why the commission will be focusing on creating a state-run cannabis market is because Gov. Chris Sununu (R) surprisingly came out in favor of the reform model in May after reaching the conclusion that legalization is “inevitable” despite his overall concerns with the policy. A state-run system, he said, is the best way to make sure his ongoing health and safety concerns can be addressed.
The legislation forming the commission that was approved by the conference committee in June initially only required members to study the state stores idea for cannabis. But it was amended prior to final passage to include a mandate for the body to take its findings and draft an actual state-run legalization measure that legislators can consider when they reconvene.
House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman John Hunt (R), who served as a conferee and is now on the commission, has worked extensively on marijuana reform issues this year—including recent efforts to reach a compromise on legislation to enact legalization this year 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 Sununu’s 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.
While Sununu doesn’t seem to have any doubts that his legalization proposal would sail through the legislature, recent history raises some questions about Senate lawmakers’ appetite for the kind of reform he’s promoting.
A bill to enact a state-run marijuana program did pass the New Hampshire House last year—but it was unanimously defeated in the Senate.
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Meanwhile, the underlying legislation that the governor signed into law with the legalization study commission provisions would also 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.
In May, 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 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 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 Brian Shamblen.