New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill for the Second Time

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has approved a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana for adult use, sending it back to the Senate for further consideration. The bill, which was amended by a House committee, would establish a state-run franchise model for cannabis sales, overseen by the Liquor Commission.

The bill, HB 629, would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to four ounces of marijuana in plant form, 20 grams of concentrated products, and products containing up to 2,000 milligrams of THC. The bill would also create a system of 15 state-licensed retail stores, which would sell marijuana products sourced from licensed cultivators and manufacturers. The bill would impose a 12.5% excise tax on the wholesale level, as well as the existing 9% meals and rooms tax on the retail level.

The bill would allocate 50% of the net tax revenue to reduce the statewide education property tax, 30% to reduce the state’s retirement funding liability, and 20% to state health programs and public safety, including funds for substance abuse recovery. The bill would also appropriate $15.6 million over 2024-25 to cover the start-up costs of the program, which would be paid back from the revenues.

The bill would allow existing medical marijuana dispensaries to apply for a dual retail license, and would also allow home cultivation of up to six plants per person and 12 plants per household for personal use. The bill would prohibit public consumption of marijuana, and would provide for criminal penalties only after the third offense in five years.

The Support and Opposition for the Marijuana Legalization Bill

The bill passed the House on Thursday with a vote of 272 to 109, with bipartisan support. The bill’s sponsors, Majority Leader Jason Osborne ® and Minority Leader Matthew Wilhelm (D), said that the bill was a compromise that addressed the concerns of various stakeholders, and that it was time for New Hampshire to join its neighboring states in legalizing marijuana.

“This is our window to get this done, and while it’s not 100% of what anybody wants, we’re taking a crapshoot if we don’t pass it this year,” Osborne said. “We don’t know who’s coming into the governor’s office.”

Wilhelm said that the bill would create jobs, generate revenue, and reduce the harms of prohibition. “This bill is about freedom, it’s about personal responsibility, it’s about economic opportunity, and it’s about social justice,” he said.

However, the bill also faced opposition from some lawmakers, who argued that legalizing marijuana would increase health and safety risks, especially for young people. They also questioned the feasibility and desirability of the state-run franchise model, which they said would make the state a “drug dealer.”

“By having the state run it, it essentially makes the state into a drug dealer,” said Rep. Lilli Walsh ®. “We are going to be responsible for the addiction, for the overdoses, for the deaths.”

Rep. John Potucek ®, who said he was a Vietnam veteran who had seen the negative effects of marijuana use, also opposed the bill. “I’ve seen what happened back in the day when guys would get stoned at night, go out on patrol the next day and wind up with a bullet in their head,” he said. “If that doesn’t scare the living crap out of you, nothing does.”

The Next Steps for the Marijuana Legalization Bill

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain fate. The Senate has historically been more resistant to marijuana legalization bills, and has rejected or tabled several bills that passed the House in previous years. The Senate also has a different version of a marijuana legalization bill, SB 111, which would create a private market for cannabis sales, rather than a state-run model.

The governor’s position on the bill is also unclear. Gov. Chris Sununu has opposed marijuana legalization in the past, and has vetoed bills that would have allowed home cultivation and expungement of marijuana convictions. However, he has also expressed some openness to the state-run franchise model, which he said was his preferred option if legalization were to happen.

The bill’s sponsors said they hoped the Senate would give the bill a fair hearing, and that they were willing to work with the governor and the Senate to find common ground. They also said they were confident that the majority of New Hampshire residents supported marijuana legalization, and that the state should not fall behind its neighbors.

“We are so far away from when we are actually going to be selling marijuana in the state of New Hampshire,” said Rep. John Hunt ®. “I want to get the ball rolling.”

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