Democrat and Republican House leadership in New Hampshire announced plans to file a bipartisan bill in the next legislative session that would legalize recreational cannabis.
House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R) and Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm (D) are co-sponsors of the measure that would permit adults 21 and older to possess and gift a maximum of four ounces of cannabis, as well as to grow up to six plants for personal use.
“By legalizing cannabis, New Hampshire can stop squandering tax dollars and instead provide a significant source of new revenue to fund critical health and law enforcement programs while lowering local property taxes,” Wilhelm said in a press release. “New Hampshire remains the only state in New England that has failed to legalize recreational cannabis, while our neighbors benefit from increased revenue and their cannabis users benefit from safer testing and regulation of the product.”
The GOP retained control of both chambers following the midterm elections, and it is in New Hampshire’s Senate where progress on cannabis reform has faltered in the Granite State in recent years.
Senate lawmakers blocked two House-approved marijuana legalization bills this year.
Marijuana reform advocates in New Hampshire are now increasingly optimistic that this bipartisan initiative to reform the state’s cannabis laws could help break the impasse in the Senate.
“The New Hampshire Senate may appear to be an immovable object, but this bill has the potential to develop into an irresistible force,” said Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire. “I’m very encouraged to see House leaders uniting behind this thoughtful, comprehensive approach to cannabis policy.”
The reelection of Gov. Chris Sununu (R) may give some cause for concern though. He has long been opposed to legalizing cannabis but some of his recent comments suggest that he now views the reform as an inevitability.
While the new bill has not been released in full, a summary reveals it would serve to establish a Cannabis Commission composed of officials appointed by the governor. It would be charged with crafting the rules for the legal cannabis industry, overseeing that these are being followed, and issuing cannabis business licenses. The Cannabis Commission would be aided by a 13-member advisory board.
The measure contains social equity provisions aimed at reducing the barriers to entry into the legal industry for military veterans, small-scale farmers and those who have been most harmed by marijuana criminalization. Support includes reduced licensing fees, prioritized consideration for licensing, and the creation of a Cannabis Business Development Fund to provide funding and technical support.
The summary states that the bill’s goal is to establish a smooth transition from New Hampshire’s existing medical cannabis program to a recreational one. To this end, the Cannabis Commission would work alongside the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to create a transition plan within 20 month’s of the bill’s enactment into law.
Adult-use cannabis sales would be taxed at 8.5 percent and 70 percent of these revenues, alongside licensing fees, would initially go towards unfunded pension liabilities. After that is paid off, this amount would go toward an education trust fund and property tax relief.
The remaining 30 percent would be split between substance misuse programs (10 percent), the aforementioned support for veterans, farmers, and impacted individuals, on top of job training and legal aid programs (10 percent), municipality funding for those that permit at least one marijuana business to operate in their locality (5 percent), and law enforcement (5 percent).
Prior marijuana possession convictions would be automatically expunged under the measure, while ongoing cannabis-related cases would be reviewed.
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