By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – An open and competitive market for the sale of cannabis in the Live Free or Die state was advocated over a “Soviet style monopoly,” run by the liquor commission, legislators were told at a hearing on a new amendment to legalize weed this year.
New Hampshire would also wipe away more than six years of successful therapeutic cannabis sales and become the only state in the nation to sell weed solely and directly under the measure, members of a House committee were told Tuesday.
Dispensaries, which cater, educate, and counsel to the needs of the ill, would cease to exist in one variation of the bill, at least one representative said, and would dissolve unless they are licensed as well to sell to adults.
That was among testimony heard in the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee which on Tuesday began to explore Gov. Chris Sununu’s “path” for allowing adult-use cannabis sales in the state.
On May 12, hours after the Senate voted 14-10 to kill HB 639, which would have allowed for the retail sale of cannabis to adults, Sununu, a Republican who is possibly running for president said he had changed his mind and would support a legalization bill that is framed to work similar to the way the state sells liquor and protects its citizens.
That language is largely contained as a non-germane amendment to Senate Bill 98-FN.
The 33-page amendment can be accessed here https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/pdf.aspx?id=12423&q=amendment
Sununu’s announcement is here: https://www.governor.nh.gov/news-and-media/governor-chris-sununu-statement-marijuana-legalization.
Sununu said he will support a 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” or multiple dispensaries along a single road; empowers towns to keep it out if they choose; reduces access to poly-drugs; and keeps it tax-free to undercut the cartels who continue to drive the illicit drug market.
“This is a long-term, sustainable solution for our state. 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,” Sununu said in a statement. “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.”
The amendment in the House establishes procedures for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis; the licensing and regulation of cannabis establishments; the operation of state-operated cannabis retail stores and makes appropriations to make it happen perhaps within the next year.
But there are some concerns with the amendment which some individuals testified to Tuesday.
One relates to the state’s therapeutic dispensaries.
Matt Simon is the director of public relations for Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire, which operates Merrimack and Chichester dispensaries. New Hampshire has three companies that provide such dispensaries also located in Dover, Conway, Plymouth, Lebanon, and Keene.
Prime ATC grows cannabis in small batches and sells it to about 2,000 patients. While there are more than 14,000 who qualify for the state’s cannabis card, many of them go to Maine, where it can be legally purchased at a lower rate, he said.
Under the current proposal, “You are talking about a system where the only entity we can sell cannabis to is the state of New Hampshire and they decide the prices and they decide whether or not to buy the product. That is what we are saying is completely unworkable. That’s not a market,” Simon said.
It has been a tremendous challenge for the ATCs to survive, he said.
They have faced many regulatory burdens, but if a workable compromise passes that allows the ATCs to engage in the adult-use market, that would allow them to expand production benefits from the economies of scale.
If there is no such consideration, things like cannabis suppositories would go away.
The ATCs manufacture the product for a very small percentage of the sick population who can benefit from a non-oral product. They don’t make money on it, but that product would no longer be available in the state, Simon noted.
Sick people and their caregivers are the only ones who can legally possess cannabis right now. New Hampshire is surrounded by others that have legalized adult-use cannabis.
He said the amendment language right now is “very contradictory.”
Simon also testified that it won’t be like a liquor store where you can get the finest spirits from all over the world, it would be only New Hampshire grown.
Farmer Jim Riddle of Hillsboro also testified. He holds a USDA hemp growers license to produce hemp but seeds that have a higher THC content than allowed must be destroyed.
He said seeds belong in the definition of hemp and seed growers are already regulated, noting that some language in the amendment would need to be changed.
“I am ready to grow,” he said. “But only in an open and competitive market.”
He said New Hampshire has good soil and climate for outdoor growth of cannabis which is less expensive than indoors.
And he said he can buy seeds because they are considered hemp products and are delivered through the mail.
Riddle said it would be like comparing a hothouse tomato to a garden tomato. He opposed what he called “a Soviet Style monopoly” and said he could deal with it if ATC could still sell.
Heather Marie Brown, a member of the Therapeutic Cannabis Oversight Board, and a therapeutic user opposed most of the bill saying it would destroy the therapeutic market.
“I do want legalization but I don’t want it in this fashion,” Brown said.
She said there could be caps placed rather than making “marijuana miles” and make it unappealing for huge businesses to come into the state as they have in Maine.
“If you want New Hampshire to be different, then let’s put caps, let’s put restrictions. Let’s not allow everyone to have a license,” she said.
Frank Knaack, policy director of NH branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said legalization of adult cannabis is an important issue of fairness.
He said he agreed with the governor this is not about money this is about harm reduction and justice. He said marijuana is a perfect example because black people and white people use marijuana at the same rate yet in New Hampshire, data shows that black people are 4.5 times more likely to be arrested. This impacts rental and job access and the future of a person’s life and livelihood, he said.
Paul Morrissette a partner in East Coast Cannabis in Maine, cultivators and manufacturers, said the current bill was unworkable from a growers perspective. He warned of bankruptcy for both the liquor commission and the single-use seller under the bill.
“This can’t fly,” he said “You are going to get to the point where no one is making money.”
He said this structurally is not going to work. Morrissette said he sees “open natural market for the live free or die state by allowing individuals with smaller licenses to sell and to encourage small cultivation.