A New Hampshire Senate committee on Thursday took a historic step by approving a House-passed bill to legalizing marijuana possession and cultivation for adults 21 and older.
This marks the first time that a cannabis legalization bill has moved through a Senate panel. While the House has advanced a number of reform proposals over the past several sessions—including a separate bill this year to create a regulated, state-run marijuana market—the Senate has long posed a serious obstacle on the issue.
Now the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed the bipartisan non-commercial legalization bill from Rep. Carol McGuire (R) in 3-2 vote. It next heads to the Senate floor.
There was light discussion about the proposal prior to the panel’s vote. Sen. Rebecca Whitley (D) said that “we have learned a lot from the past 40 years and the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ and I think the reality is that it’s been shown that the war on marijuana in particular…doesn’t keep us safe and can often waste taxpayer dollars and, in many cases, it can really ruin people’s lives.”
Members opposed to the reform proposal said they worried about the “optics” of legalization, arguing that it will send the wrong message to young people.
Here’s what McGuire’s non-commercial marijuana legalization bill would do:
Adults 21 and older could possess up to three-fourths of an ounce of cannabis for personal use.
They could further grow up to six plants—only three of which could be mature—in a secure location out of sight from other properties.
Cannabis gifting of up to three-fourths of an ounces of marijuana or up to three immature plants would be permitted between adults 21 and older.
Processing marijuana into cannabis-infused products, including edibles and tinctures, would be permitted as well.
Public consumption would be prohibited and carry a civil penalty of $100.
Adults who violate cultivation rules by, for example, growing plants visible to other properties would face a maximum $750 fine.
“HB 629 presents the best opportunity in New Hampshire’s history to legalize cannabis for adults,” Matt Simon, director of public and government relations for Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of NH, told Marijuana Moment.
“It would also make a huge difference in the lives of patients who feel strongly about being able to grow their own cannabis,” he said. “There has never been a better time for senators and Gov. Sununu to embrace this modest, sensible reform.”
The bill is nearly identical to an earlier version that also passed the House under Democratic control in 2020. The previous bill was defeated in the Senate at the committee stage.
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As it stands, possessing up to three-fourths of an ounce of marijuana is decriminalized in New Hampshire, punishable by a $100 fine for a first offense and escalating for subsequent offenses. Home cultivation remains prohibited, however, even for medical cannabis patients.
Meanwhile, the House passed a separate legalization bill last month that would create an adult-use market operated by the state’s Liquor Commission. Advocates and stakeholders have raised concerns about the idea of a state-run model, which would be unlike any other cannabis market that’s currently in place in other states.
But notably, the legislation earned some praise from Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who despite being a historically outspoken opponent of adult-use legalization, said recently that reform “could be inevitable” in the state and that HB 1598 is “the right bill and the right structure.”
“So if you are ever going to do it, do that bill,” he said.
The governor added in a separate recent interview that he’s “not fully committal” in his longstanding opposition to legalization.
Nearly three in four New Hampshire voters support legalizing marijuana, according to a recent poll. And bipartisan majorities also say they’re in favor of conducting cannabis sales through a state-run model.
Reform supporters have spent years working with the GOP-controlled legislature to craft thoughtful legislation to end cannabis criminalization, though diverging viewpoints and resistance from Republican leadership has consistently derailed the reform.
Meanwhile, three lawmakers—Reps. Joshua Adjutant (D), Renny Cushing (D) and Andrew Prout (R)—each filed separate bills to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot. Cushing, who served as House Democratic leader, passed away recently after a battle with cancer.
The House defeated Prout’s proposed constitutional amendment and voted to table the two other measures.
In order to have advanced any of the proposed constitutional amendments, it would have taken a supermajority 60 percent vote in both chambers. If any of the constitutional amendments were enacted, it would have enabled legislators to avoid a likely veto on statutory reform legislation from anti-legalization Sununu.
If legislators had ultimately moved to place a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis on the ballot, 67 percent of voters would then have needed to vote in favor for it to be enacted. Recent polling indicates that residents are ready for the reform, with three in four New Hampshirites favoring legalization.
The governor’s opposition to adult-use legalization has been a constant source of contention. However, advocates were glad that he at least signed a bill in August adding opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition for the state’s medical cannabis program and also allows out-of-state patients to access dispensaries.
In 2019, lawmakers sent a medical cannabis home grow bill to Sununu’s desk, but he vetoed it.
Meanwhile, other nearby northeast states such as Maine and Vermont have already legalized recreational cannabis.
Meanwhile in New Hampshire, the House tabled a bill last month that would have decriminalized possession of psilocybin mushrooms.