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New Hampshire Senate Rejects Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill

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New Hampshire seemed poised to remain the only state in New England without an adult-use cannabis market after the Senate struck down a legalization measure last week, but the next day, Gov. Chris Sununu announced his support for adult-use sales regulated like the state’s liquor industry.

The Senate killed the legislation in a 14-10 vote May 11 after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 May 9 to recommend that the chamber reject the bill, according to the Associated Press.

House Bill 639, co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Jason Osborne and Democratic Rep. Matt Wilhelm, cleared the House in a 272-109 vote in April.

RELATED: New Hampshire House Gives Initial Approval to Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill

The legislation would have legalized the possession, purchase, use, gift and transport of cannabis for adults 21 and older. H.B. 639 would have also established a commission responsible for testing and regulating adult-use cannabis, and the bill would have levied a 12.5% retail sales tax on the wholesale price of cannabis. The legislation also included provisions to annul past cannabis-related convictions and to allow local municipalities to enact ordinances to regulate or ban adult-use cannabis sales within their jurisdictions.

While the New Hampshire House has repeatedly approved adult-use legalization proposals, the Senate has historically shot down these measures.

Upon rejecting this most recent legalization proposal, Republican Senate President Jeb Bradley said New Hampshire shouldn’t legalize cannabis while simultaneously battling a drug addiction and overdose crisis, AP reported.

“Recreationalizing marijuana at this critical juncture would send a confusing message, potentially exacerbating the already perilous drug landscape and placing more lives at risk,” Bradley said in a written statement to the news outlet.

Wilhelm, the House Democratic Leader, argued that adult-use legalization has strong support in New Hampshire and that regulating cannabis could help protect public health, according to AP.

“Every day that New Hampshire remains an island of prohibition, more voluntary tax revenue from our residents flows to surrounding states to fund programs and services benefitting their residents,” Wilhelm said in a public statement Thursday. “Instead of establishing a regulated system where cannabis products are tested and limited to adults over 21 years old, the Senate has chosen to continue the black-market monopoly where children are valid customers and products can be laced with fentanyl and other deadly drugs.”

In the wake of H.B. 639’s defeat in the Senate, Sununu issued a statement May 12 in support of an adult-use cannabis market that is regulated similarly to how New Hampshire controls liquor sales.

“In the past, I said now is not the time to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire,” Sununu said. “Across this country and in the midst of an unprecedented opioid crisis, other states rushed to legalize marijuana with little guardrails. As a result, many are seeing the culture and fabric of their state turn.”

Nonetheless, Sununu acknowledged that a majority of New Hampshire residents support adult-use legalization, adding that “it is reasonable to assume change is inevitable.”

“That is why, with the right policy and framework in place, I stand ready to sign a legalization bill that puts the State of NH in the driver’s seat, focusing on harm reduction—not profits,” he said. “Similar to our liquor sales, this path helps to keep substances away from kids by ensuring the State of New Hampshire retains control of marketing, sales, and distribution—eliminating any need for additional taxes. As such, the bill that was defeated in NH this session was not the right path for our state.”

The right path forward, Sununu said, is an adult-use legalization measure that:

  • Allows the state to control distribution and access
  • Keeps marijuana away from kids and schools
  • Controls the marketing and messaging
  • Prohibits marijuana miles
  • Empowers towns to keep out if they choose
  • Reduces access to poly-drugs
  • Keeps it tax free to undercut the cartels who continue to drive NH’s illicit drug market

“This is a long-term, sustainable solution for our state,” he said. “I am supportive of legalizing marijuana in the right way—with this Legislature—rather than risk a poorly thought-out framework that inevitably could pass under future governors or Legislatures. Should the Legislature pass future legalization bills without these provisions in place, they will be vetoed. This is the best path forward for our state, and I stand ready and willing to work with the legislature so that we can deliver a legalization bill that is smart, sustainable, and retains the fabric and culture of our state.”

Wilhelm said that while he appreciates Sununu’s willingness to consider adult-use cannabis legislation, his announcement is “a day late and a dollar short,” AP reported.

“The policy framework proposed by Gov. Sununu today is significantly different than what has been debated in the House and Senate over the past four months,” Wilhelm said in a statement to the news outlet. “Despite Sununu’s sudden, calculated desire to raise his national profile on a popular issue, we will continue approaching cannabis legalization through the methodical, thought-out way that Granite Staters deserve.”

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