House Tries Again To Legalize Cannabis Use and Sales

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Photo by Nick Swyter/News21



CONCORD — Once again, the House gave initial approval to a bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana that many hope will cross the “t”s and dot the “i”s to eventually make it into law.

For years, the House has passed legalization of cannabis only to see the bills die in the Senate or face a sure veto from Gov. Chris Sununu, who last year did an about face and said he would approve legalization if it was structured similarly to the state’s liquor monopoly.

“It is high time we legalized marijuana in this state in a way to actually be signed into law and move forward on this,” said bill sponsor Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry. “We need to end our status as an island of prohibition.”

New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but has had a medical marijuana program for over a decade.

Under the bill, there would be 15 agency stores where cannabis would be sold and the state would oversee product quality and distribution.

The number of stores could be expanded in the future and the existing medical marijuana outlets could apply for the 15 licenses for agency stores.

But smoking marijuana in public would still be prohibited as would be growing your own.

The bill’s restrictions and guidelines caused one of its sponsors to say he would vote against his bill.

Rep. Jonah Wheeler, D-Peterborough, said the current proposal before the House takes a bill that simply legalized recreational use and private sales and turned it into an agency store model with restricted use and sales.

“That is not a free market or a good way to legalize cannabis,” Wheeler said, predicting “big cannabis will swoop in and buy up all the stores with big money for lobbyists.”
He said that will force state residents to overpay for an under-quality product when they can go across the state border and buy marijuana for less money, get a better product and more choices.

He said people would continue to use the black market under the proposal before the House noting the plan is not really legalizing recreational use.

“There is this hunger we feel, but this is a baloney sandwich,” Wheeler said. “Let’s come back when lobbyists have less control of the other side of the wall.”

But Layon and others argued they tried to craft a piece of legislation which is a compromise in order to make it through the Senate and win the governor’s signature.

She defended the plan saying it would eventually lead to a free market with lower prices and more choices, while being regulated and transparent.

House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee chair, Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, said the House has tried many times to legalize marijuana and this bill is the right answer for New Hampshire which already has the model with liquor stores in place.

“No state has ever walked back and made marijuana illegal again,” Hunt said, “but some states may wish to do what we are doing which is to take baby steps.”
The bill passed on a 239-141 vote and now goes to the House Finance Committee for review before a final vote on the bill.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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