Senate shoots down marijuana legislation
A bill allowing Granite Staters to posses small amounts of marijuana and to grow their own marijuana plants was killed in the Senate in a 15-to-9 vote last Thursday. This vote came just after another vote that defeated HB 1598, which would have created a state-controlled retail operation for legalized cannabis. These moves have effectively shot down supporters’ hopes for legalization this year.
Legalizing marijuana in the Granite State
Under HB 629, adults over age 21 in New Hampshire would have been allowed to possess up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana. Additionally, they could grow up to six cannabis plants at home, provided the plants were in a secure location and hidden from public view. Growers would even be allowed to give small amounts of their marijuana to others.
An amendment to the bill was offered to address driving under the influence of marijuana, but the Senate also voted that down. Right now there are no quick, reliable methods to test for marijuana intoxication at a police stop.
HB 1598 would have kept home-growing illegal but allowed personal consumption and possession of marijuana over age 21. The state would have regulated marijuana growing and sales at state-run cannabis stores. This is somewhat similar to New Hampshire’s model for liquor sales.
Rather than add some sort of sobriety test for marijuana, HB 1598 would have made it a violation for anyone in a vehicle to consume marijuana. A driver consuming marijuana would have his or her driver's license suspended for three months for a first offense. A second offense would be a misdemeanor and carry a six-month license suspension.
A missed opportunity
This is hardly the first attempt at legalizing recreational marijuana in New Hampshire. Similar efforts failed in 2020 and 2019. New Hampshire is something of an “island” when it comes to this issue. All of the states that surround us—Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts— as well as Canada, have long since legalized marijuana.
Proponents of legalizing marijuana here point to these other places, saying we should follow their lead. Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, argues that dispensaries are lining up just outside New Hampshire’s borders in the same way that New Hampshire has lined up liquor stores along our borders. In other words, by maintaining a prohibition on recreational marijuana, we are missing out on significant tax revenue and allowing other states to take advantage.
The wrong move for NH?
Still, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. Gov. Sununu has also been a vocal opponent of legalizing marijuana, pointing out the fact that New Hampshire remains in the midst of an opioid crisis. He argues that New Hampshire’s opioid overdose death rates have stabilized while other states have seen increases—he takes this as a sign we are doing something right, by comparison, and should therefore stay the course.
Some in the hearing for this bill felt New Hampshire has more work to do before legalizing recreational marijuana. For example, Sen. Denise Ricciardi (R-Bedford) believes the state needs to develop a way to regulate the THC content of cannabis and to label it before legalizing.
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