Senate Judiciary Committee Backs Abbas’ Amended Cannabis Bill

Print More

Wikimedia Commons

Four marijuana joints


CONCORD – The Senate Judiciary Committee has recommended passage of an adult use cannabis bill on a 3-2 vote which now goes before the full 24-member Senate after being amended in form from the House.

The body has never passed such a bill, although asked to repeatedly by the House over the past few years.

This bill is more likely to be signed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu than the House version because it contains many of his “asks.”

Under an amendment floated by Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, and passed by the committee, the state would begin with having 15 stores under a franchise with the state Liquor Commission in control. The House looked to an agency model in which the state would still have regulatory control, but not as much control as this measure under Liquor Commission oversight.

There will be no home grown cannabis allowed in the amended version recommended to the Senate and there will be more financial penalties and restrictions on public smoking of cannabis than there are now, Abbas said.

A full vote of the Senate could come as early as next Thursday with at least one advocate saying they believe they have more than the necessary 13 votes for passage of the measure.

New Hampshire is completely surrounded by other states and a Canadian province where adults can go and buy marijuana, now. In fact, 24 states have already passed such measures but none quite like this one which uses the state Liquor Commission to control operations as they do with liquor.

The House voted 239-136 to pass a slightly different version but this one puts the Liquor Commission in the driver’s seat with more regulation and is more likely to be signed by the outgoing Republican governor who said he is not a fan of legal weed, but believes it is his responsibility to craft such legislation which he deems ultimately “inevitable.”

Republicans are motivated to get something done now, with concerns that a Democratically controlled House, Senate or Governor would not put in as many restrictions.

The committee heard amended versions of House Bill 1633 from Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, who worked across the political lines with Abbas on an amendment. It varied slightly from one offered by Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, whose main concern surrounds monopolization. A final amendment including some of their concerns was offered by Abbas which passed 3-2.

Voting to oppose were Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, the chair and Senate Majority Leader, and Sen. William Gannon, R-Sandown.

Gannon said he appreciated Abbas’ effort to make “a bad bill better” but what the state is doing with this bill is “getting citizens high” and that is not a good idea.

“I am fine with it, medicinally,” he said of the state-established therapeutic cannabis program, but not in support of the bill along safety lines.

Particularly he did not support higher THC levels in some packaged servings. He said there are going to be employees that go to work under the influence of cannabis, on the roads and the state will see twice as much of a bad product in sight of kids. 

“I think we can be a state that doesn’t have it,” he said. “We do not need to do what our neighbors do.

Abbas said he supported a second offense of public use at $500 and a misdemeanor hoping this will deter that behavior and will look to law enforcement to help. A first offense would be a $100 fine.

Gannon said he works a lot with police and they have shown concern for the impact of multi-use of alcohol and cannabis in driving.

He said a county attorney told him it is very hard to prosecute the THC aspect under the laws.

Abbas said no alcohol infused THC drinks will be sold under the bill.

He said it is important for law enforcement to develop field sobriety tests. 

“We don’t allow any use inside a vehicle at all, in the bill,” he said. 

People who show up high to work would probably get suspended from work and that does not change with this bill, he said.

Carson said she went to the “beautiful city” of Toronto last year in Ontario Canada and was turned off by all the public cannabis smoking there. She said in Denver at the airport all you smell when you get off the plane is marijuana.

“Why would we bring that here?” Carson said.

“If you want it bad enough, go to Massachusetts and buy it,” Carson said. “Why would we change our quality of life?”

She asked a hypothetical question: if someone is camping in New Hampshire and the neighboring campers come up here to smoke all weekend, where do some rights begin and end?

State Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, said people have asked legislators to pass this and in some polls as many as 80 percent of the respondents in New Hampshire have said they feel it should be legally sold to adults.

Carson said once you open the door, it’s hard to close it.

She said cannabis is still a federal Schedule I drug and that puts the state at a different place.

“Why in this instance are we choosing to ignore federal law?” she asked. “Why are we putting police officers in an untenable position?” 

The areas of difference that may resurface in floor amendments included the packaging with Rosenwald putting a limit of 5 milligrams of THC per serving while Abbas argued that might put some border stores at a competitive disadvantage with other states which have higher limits. He suggested 15 mg provided someone buying it has a therapeutic cannabis card.

Another area of contention involves the maximum number of store franchisees with Abbas supporting up to three in one company’s control and Bradley saying one was enough, arguing he does not want monopolization concerns and big money coming in to run the show. He said he wants to encourage smaller entities to participate. 

Abbas argued that there could be a problem if the state cannot find enough “stellar” potential franchisees if only one per store is allowed.

Still another area of contention involves host municipalities and what happens if the community says “no” but the public wants a store and would want to repetitively ask for a petitioned article during each municipal election.

The words “may” and “shall” as they relate to the municipalities’ duties to put it subsequently on the next scheduled vote was debated with “may ” being left in the version passed.

The amendment supported by Rosenwald would say “shall ” allow for a petition by 5 percent of the voters but Abbas said there should be a limit and it should not be able to come up for a petition vote for three years after a vote and that there be a public hearing on a petition.

Carson said she opposed that as it would be forcing the municipality’s hands after the voters rejected it.

“Why do we need this section?” she asked.

Abbas said if the municipality rejects that they have bigger problems than cannabis “if an elected official is not going to do their duty.”

He said maybe they just leave it as “may” for now and it can be revisited, noting there are no stores popping up for at least a year and a half.

The state estimates it will take about $8 million to get the stores up and running and could bring in revenue in the order of $16 million a year by the third year. 

There would be a fee on gross total revenue of 10 percent which would be well below the 20 percent tax in Massachusetts, thus working to reduce the black market.

It would limit possession by adults to 4 ounces and would prohibit possession and sales for those under the age of 21.

Abbas said south of Concord is dealing with a lot of the negative impacts “we can’t control …this was my attempt to mitigate some of those negative impacts.”

Day one, we will have a law enforcement agency dealing with the black market, he said.

Massachusetts now has over 300 stores and he said it is no wonder why not all those are profitable. 

“I would rather be criticized as going too slow than too fast,” he said with the bill which would only allow for 15 stores.

There was discussion over allowing therapeutic cannabis to be tax free.

Also giving an advantage to the therapeutic cannabis or ATC outfits was a matter of contention with Rosenwald preferring giving them license preference but others opposing.

Carson and Gannon both said they remember when the therapeutic cannabis industry came forward to ask for licenses, they said they would not go to retail.

“Here we are now giving what we said we wouldn’t,” Gannon said.

Bradley said he did not want the money going to the Education Fund saying, “I don’t like the look of that,” and instead the vast amount of revenue other than that dedicated to health and law enforcement should go to the state’s general fund.

Advocates for passage said they believe some would like that funding go toward reducing property tax and believe that could still be achieved in the Senate Finance Committee.

Bradley has said he will not support the bill at all but wants to make it as strong and safe as possible if it is to pass saying in the past “I can count to 13.”

Because the bill has a fiscal note attached it would have to go to the Senate Fiscal Committee if it is passed by the full Senate as early as next Thursday. If the Fiscal Committee recommends passage it would have to come back again to the Senate for a vote and then go over to the House for their consideration. And if it passes there, it would go to the governor who has indicated a willingness to sign provided certain criteria are met focusing on youth and consumer safety and strict state control.

It could come to the full Senate with committee recommendation as early as May 16.

Comments are closed.