Cannabis Legalization Gets Initial Approval From N.H. House

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Rep. Anita Burroughs, D-Glen, argues for legalizing marijuana for those over 21 years old Wednesday on the House Floor. House Bill 639 passed 234-127 and now goes to the Ways and Means Committee for review.


CONCORD — By a nearly two-to-one majority, the House Wednesday gave initial approval to a bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults.

House Bill 639 legalizes the possession and use of cannabis for those over 21 years old and would make New Hampshire the last state in New England to do so if the bill becomes law, which is doubtful.

Gov. Chris Sununu has vowed to veto the bill if it passes the legislature, and the Senate has traditionally been a roadblock to legalization as well.

The bill would have the liquor commission regulate and administer the cultivation, manufacture and retail sale of cannabis.

The Alternative Treatment Centers that distribute medical marijuana to those who qualify would be maintained under the bill but could eventually be regulated by the Liquor Commission in the future.

The bill establishes a 15 percent tax on cultivation or at the wholesale level with the money mostly going to education but also to Health and Human Services for prevention programs.

During debate, state Rep. Lilli Walsh, R-Hampstead, argued lawmakers were making a mistake to legalize cannabis, noting the opposition of police chiefs and the experience of other states that legalized the drug.

“The commercial model is collapsing as every state that legalized cannabis has an exploding black market where the prices are always lower,” she said. “This is not a political issue, it is a health and medical issue.”

She and others argued there are no intoxication standards for marijuana like there is for alcohol, which means someone caught driving high cannot be prosecuted for driving under the influence.

“Don’t be fooled by the addiction-for-profit industry,” Walsh said. “This will change the state in unimaginable ways and none for the common good.”

Rep. Ralph Boehm, R-Litchfield, said cannabis is a gateway drug that will eventually lead to cocaine or opioids.

The only reason to smoke marijuana is to get high, he maintained, and said it will create its own black market when 21 year olds would buy it legally and then sell it to underaged kids.

Boehm also did not buy the argument that New Hampshire should join all the surrounding states in legalizing marijuana.

“If everyone jumps off the bridge” he said, “are you going to follow.”
But Rep. Anita Burroughs, D-Glen, said the bill is the most comprehensive plan for legalizing cannabis the legislature has produced and did it in a bipartisan manner.

She said her Commerce Committee labored to craft a bill that works for both parties and found common ground to a new solution.

“We can now join the other New England states,” she said, “and this will allow us to do it in a responsible way, an innovative way and a bipartisan way.”
Commerce Committee chair, Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, said the committee used the established liquor commission model to administer and enforce the new program. 

The commission already has the hearings officers and enforcement officers in place to do the job and ensure it is done in a safe way to protect everyone, he said.

“We wanted to make sure New Hampshire citizens do not have to go out-of-state to practice live-free-or-die,” Hunt said.

Under the bill a community would decide if a retail cannabis store and how many could operate in the town or city.

The bill passed on a 234-127 vote, not quite the two-thirds majority needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee for review before it comes back to the full House for a final vote.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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