The New Hampshire Senate Committee recently voted against two House-approved bills that aimed to legalize marijuana and permit home cultivation for medical cannabis patients. Despite this setback, the bills will progress to the Senate floor.
Senate Judiciary Committee’s Decision
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 against the legalization and regulation bill proposed by House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R) and Minority Leader Matthew Wilhelm (D). They deemed it “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL). A non-commercial legalization bill and a home cultivation proposal for cannabis patients met the same fate.
The bills had been under discussion during a hearing held on the cannabis holiday 4/20 last month.
Advocates and Legislators Stand on Marijuana Legalization
Sen. Rebecca Whitley (D) opposed the ITL motion, advocating for the end of marijuana prohibition in New Hampshire. She expressed her disappointment at the missed opportunity to capture dollars spent outside the state due to the existing prohibition.
Marijuana legalization advocates closely watched the proceedings, hoping the GOP-controlled Senate would approach the reform differently after rejecting two legalization bills passed by the House last session.
Osborne, the House majority leader and sponsor of the legalization bill, hinted at holding unrelated Senate measures if the Senate failed to pass the reform.
The Proposed Bill: HB 639
The commercial legalization bill, HB 639, which stalled in the committee, proposes a conventional regulated private market. It differs from the state-run and non-commercial bills rejected last session. The bill, which passed the House with a two-thirds majority last month, aimed to:
- Allow adults 21 and older to purchase, possess, and gift up to four ounces of cannabis.
- Assign regulation of the marijuana market and business license issuance to the newly renamed Liquor and Cannabis Commission.
- Have no statewide limit on the number of marijuana businesses licensed.
- Require the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the commission to develop regulations within 18 months of the bill’s enactment.
- Tax cannabis at the rate of 12.5 percent of the products’ value in their final form at the wholesale level.
- Allocate funds generated towards various social and health services while also allowing localities to limit or ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area.
The proposed bill, however, did not include provisions for home cultivation or expunging previous cannabis convictions.
Senate’s Stance on the Bill
Senate President Jeb Bradley (R) has already expressed his opposition to the legislation, predicting its failure on the Senate floor. Despite this, advocates remain hopeful due to changes in Senate membership after the recent election, which they believe could favor legalization.
Status of Other Related Bills
The Senate Committee also rejected a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants. The proposal was for patients and their caregivers to cultivate up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings.
A House-passed legalization bill with virtually no regulations or limitations on cannabis was also deemed ITL by the Senate committee.
Governor’s Views on Marijuana Legalization
Governor Chris Sununu (R), who was re-elected last year, continues to oppose legalization. However, his recent comments suggest a potential softening of his stance. He advised states to be patient about marijuana reform, hinting that it could be inevitable in the future.
Despite the Senate rejecting two reform bills last year, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation. Unfortunately, this, too was struck down in the Senate