Advocate Says They May Finally Have the Senate Votes To Legalize Marijuana in NH

Print More

Courtesy photo



CONCORD — The 24-member state Senate has never passed an adult-use cannabis sales bill before but that could change in the next ten days as an amended House version, which addresses the governor’s priorities, is considered.

Tim Egan, a former state representative who has been lobbying for passage of the measure for the New Hampshire Cannabis Association, said he has spoken either in person or through email to all Senators and said he can count as many as possibly 15 votes in the Senate for passage with nine Democrats and six Republicans.

“I think this is the year,” said Egan Tuesday.

And the voting begins this Wednesday.

He said many are working hard to find consensus on a compromise measure with consumer and children’s safety the primary focus.

Egan said he believes that all Democrats with the exception of state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester would support a measure to pass cannabis bringing nine votes while he believes Senators Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, Howard Pearl, R-Loudon, Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, Dan Innis, R-Bradford, Keith Murphy, R-Manchester, and possibly Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford, will support at least one of the measures for legalization. 

Thirteen votes are needed for passage.

He said both Innis and Murphy are more favoring the model passed by the House.

With changes being made that favor a model likely to please Gov. Chris Sununu, the first test comes on Wednesday when an amended House Bill 1663 FN-A, is expected to be voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Egan said he sees that as a 3-2 vote in favor of the bill with both Senators William Gannon, R-Kingston and Majority Leader Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry opposing. 

Because the bill has a financial note attached and needs to also go to Senate Finance if passed, the full Senate needs to move quickly on the measure and it will likely come before the full body on May 16.

If it survives there and the Senate Finance Committee, and is again passed by the Senate, it will then likely need to go to the House for concurrence and then to the desk of the governor who can veto it or sign it into law.

Last year, the day after the Senate killed a similar measure, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that he would support a future cannabis bill with a handful of conditions which allow the state to operate sales directly.

In a statement, Sununu said he would only 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”; 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 NH’s illicit drug market.

“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,” Sununu wrote last May.

The governor said last week he has not waivered.

“I laid out the eight or ten things I’d like to see in that bill for it to get a signature on my desk. If they meet those stipulations, I’ll sign in. If they don’t I won’t. I know there are a few changes on the bill to be made. If the Senate makes those changes the way I have laid out the guidelines to be, I would sign it,” Sununu said.

He noted the House version which on April 11 passed 239-136 is off the mark because he favors a more state controlled, franchise model. 

The House’s version looks more like what has been done in many of the 24 states whereby the state licenses a business to operate the stores, also called the “agency” model.

What is clear in both versions is that the state would be in the driver’s seat to focus on harm reduction, not profits,” as is stated in the outset of state Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry’s bill which is more than 40 pages long.

She said that buying from a store is safer than the black market and people are now going out of state to do that, as the Live Free or Die state is surrounded on all sides by states and one Canadian province where the product is legally sold to adults.

But opponents, including state Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, have said there are too many public safety issues for the state to be engaged in such practice, including issues for law enforcement.

Sununu, who is not running for re-election, said he is not a fan of legalizing weed to begin with but believes his job is to make sure it is done well and does not repeat the mistakes of other states.

“I do have a responsibility,” Sununu said. “I do believe it is inevitable, I have a responsibility to set us up for the best long-term system that we possibly can. I think other states around us have not done a very good job setting that up. I think the House bill as it came out was more towards some of those tendencies and could lead to some of the problems that other states have had. So we have a great chance to get it – to do it better than anybody else and most importantly, keeping it out of the hands of children. Keep the marketing and messaging away from children, keep it away from schools, limit the number of facilities which allow it. It allows you to have it, allows you to get it but doesn’t necessarily flood every community with a store. 

“And we have a unique system within the Liquor Commission, a unique model that most other states don’t have – only a couple of other states could emulate what we are doing – and that gives us the opportunity to get it more right than anybody else. It doesn’t mean it would be perfect. And obviously, making any steps to legalize cannabis is a big step but all the more reason we should really focus on not taking any of it for granted and working very hard to be very strict and allowing it to happen, allowing the citizens to have access – adults to have access and keeping it away from kids. And that’s it. And if you do that, that’s what everybody…and they have a chance to do that I think with the stipulations I put forth.”

Egan said Sununu is correct on a number of fronts in his comments including polls which he said show 80 percent of residents support adult use cannabis sales in New Hampshire.

He agreed with the governor in his assertion that some other states have not done a good job and moved too quickly to roll out their programs, including Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut.

And the bottom line, which he said, is passing the measure to make cannabis “safer for everybody.”

On April 24, two Senators proposed changes to the House version which increase regulations and tighten oversight of any new program.

Many testifying in opposition talked about the drug’s impact on young people with developing brains, saying legalization is a green light for use. Other concerns were safety on the highways, increased use and the health of long-time users and what the costs could be for the state.

Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, who opposes legalizing marijuana said the fundamental goals everyone should agree on are proper oversight, the protection of public health and safety, the state of New Hampshire should not be beholden to “big marijuana” and not invite the black market into the state.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry, urged the Senate Judiciary Committee not to make many changes to the bill that passed the House saying that it is a balanced approach that drew enough support, but may not with wholesale changes.

She said legalizing cannabis will not significantly increase the users of the drug as it is readily available in surrounding states and on the black market, although they are not getting a safe, regulated product on the illicit market.

She also suggested the 10 percent sales or franchise tax should not be increased as it would result in the legal products being about the same as on the black market.

Estimates are that the state could make $5.8 million in the first year, $8.2 million in the second and $15.9 million in the third year, using data from Maine. About $8 million would be required in start-up costs and as had been in a previous version of the bill 65 percent of the revenues would go to reducing property taxes, which may be added in to the bill in the Senate, Egan said. Some revenue could likely go to law enforcement training and health education.

The sections dealing with driving while impaired by cannabis would be the same as drunk driving. They were also carefully crafted, Layon said, to satisfy concerns.

No more than four ounces of cannabis could be in an adult’s possession and there are no provisions for growing your own cannabis at home.

There would be no public smoking allowed and fines would go from $100 for the first offense $500 for the second and a third would lead to a possible conviction of a Class B misdemeanor.

There would be a 21-member Cannabis Advisory Board which would look to recommend legislation and changes and while effective upon passage, it would not be likely that the state would see a store open before mid 2026.

The bill allows the businesses associated with medical marijuana to compete for the 15 franchises under the bill as well as growing the products.

Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem is proposing a model that Sununu likes with the Liquor Commission having direct oversight and Senate President Jeb Bradley, who opposes legalization, has offered an amendment which would only allow for a business to control one store, not a maximum of three as the House passed bill allows.

Abbas’s amendment would put greater restrictions on the program, and would incorporate a number of the suggestions that grew out of last year’s study commission, which he chaired.

Noting where he lives on the southern border, his area is already dealing with a lot of the social impacts of legalization, but not the benefits.

“We are not receiving any revenue or enforcing any regulations on the businesses in Massachusetts, Maine or Vermont,” he said. “If we had stores in New Hampshire, we would have a hand on the wheel and something to say about it.”

His proposal would also allow a pathway for the medical cannabis business owners to participate in the legalization, but it will not be a license for an outlet store, he said.

Bradley went through Abbas’s amendment and suggested further changes to tighten regulation and provisions.

“I don’t support this bill. But one thing I’ve learned over my years in this building is how to count. If you have 13 votes for this, you have 13 votes,” he said, implying that would pass the 24-member Senate. “If this passes, we need to make it the best possible version of legalization we can.”

He proposed restrictions around schools, and similar restrictions while driving as open containers for both smoking and edibles, and enhanced penalties for adults who use cannabis with children in the vehicle.

He also objected to a provision in both proposals that would allow ownership over three functions, sales of medical cannabis and a retail store, as well as growing the products, and up to three of any of those functions. 

“You’re inviting big marijuana into the state,” Bradley said, “and squeezing out any New Hampshire interest.”

If you allow one company to own three growing facilities, he said, “they will own this building.”

He also said lobbying by any businesses associated with cannabis should be prohibited.

Bradley also proposed an upper limit on potency for different products, notification for any change of ownership and revenue going to the host community for facilities.

“I still will oppose it,” Bradley said, but “these changes are absolutely essential if we are not going to allow big marijuana in and we want to eliminate the black market.”

– Garry Rayno contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.