House Rejects Senate Version of Legal Weed, Supports a Committee of Conference

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The New Hampshire House voted to form a committee of conference after voting down the Senate version of HB 1633 on Thursday.


CONCORD – New Hampshire will now have a committee of conference between the House and Senate to determine if the Granite State will become the 25th state to legalize recreational adult cannabis sales.

The vote Thursday to concur with the Senate went down 117-252. But it overwhelmingly supported a committee of conference to hash out the differences with a vote of 261 to 108.

Some who spoke on House Bill 1633-FN-A said the Senate tried their best to their version of the bill and make it worse, adding more government interference and regulation.

Supporters of the measure said there would be time before 2026 to change flaws and urged to get something going now.

The bill has an uncertain future now and relies on a committee of conference to find not only consensus but something that Gov. Chris Sununu will not veto.

State Rep. Jared Sullivan, D-Bethlehem, opposed concurrence calling the House version a strong bipartisan bill.

“Unfortunately members of the other body decided to gut that work,” he said. “This expands government.”

Sullivan said it does not do anything for over a year.

He said that both sides of the aisle should be proud of the House version and asked those if they may be concerned about civil liberties.

Would you be comfortable with the liquor commission coming into your house to check for illegal weed growing, he asked. “We can do better than this,” he said.

Rep. Kevin Verville, R-Deerfield, said he is staunchly in favor of cannabis decriminalization but this is not the New Hampshire solution. 

“This is not what we are looking for.”

Verville said the only one who likes the bill is “big pot.”

He said he knows the majority of his constituents want legal weed but he said House Bill 1633-FN-A is not the answer and it would be better to try again next year.

Sununu, a Republican who is not seeking another term, said he feels legal adult sales is “inevitable” and that while not a fan, he has the responsibility to sign a measure with strict guardrails protecting children and communities from “marijuana miles” full of multiple cannabis stores.

His “path” included the following that needed to be in the bill:

– Allows the state to control distribution and access

– Keeps marijuana away from kids and schools

– The state controls the marketing and messaging

– Prohibits ‘marijuana miles’ of multiple stores on one thoroughfare

– Empowers towns to keep them out if they choose

– Reduces access to poly-drugs

– 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 year after years of opposing any sort of pot legalization in the past.

Supporters have said that at least 70 percent of those polled in the Granite State support legal adult recreational sales.

New Hampshire is surrounded by neighboring states that have some form of legal weed.

“Similar to our liquor sales, this path helps to keep substances away from kids by ensuring the State of New Hampshire retains control of marketing, sales, and distribution – eliminating any need for additional taxes,” Sununu said when laying out his strategy last year, the day after a similar bill was killed in the Senate.

State Rep. Heath Howard, D-Strafford, who identified himself as a therapeutic cannabis patient, said he could not support the bill because it would damage the Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) that exist for patient care and would criminalize consumption of cannabis while a passenger in a vehicle. 

He said the Senate stripped a portion of the bill which would give preference to the Alternative Treatment Centers and there are 15,000 who are served by them and their employees.

But State Rep. John B. Hunt, R-Rindge, said there is nothing in the Senate language to change how ATCs operate and they will continue as they are now, providing tax-free cannabis sales to patients.

He said the Senate intentionally made the bill “unpalatable” for “you to kill this bill.” That is the number one reason why you must vote ‘yes’ today. We are not going to fall for this ploy.”

The reality, he said, is it is going to take two years before the first bud is sold in this state. There will be two legislative sessions to work on this legislation to begin the conversation.

He said the bill does not have the liquor commission coming to your house to see if you are growing weed but instead focuses on sales.

“The time is now to vote ‘yes,’” he said. He said he read in the news that more Americans want a (cannabis) gummy before bed than a nightcap.

And state Rep. Andrew Prout, R-Hudson, urged passage and making New Hampshire the 25th state to legalize adult cannabis sales.

A link to the bill is here

There would be no sales tax at the consumer level but each of the 15 stores will need to pay a 15 percent franchise fee of monthly gross total sales to the state.

Under the bill as is currently written it will create a non-lapsing cannabis fund to collect the revenue. 

Fifty percent of the revenue will go to municipalities while 20 percent will go to substance abuse prevention, 15 percent to public safety, and 15 percent to the Department of Health and Human Services for child system care, according to the amended bill.

Start-up costs of $8 million is to be set aside for the biennium ending June, 2025 which will be repaid by sales over time. 

On March 27 during a press briefing in his office, Sununu said legalization could potentially pass on his watch and that the bill would have to be strictly controlled by the state’s liquor commission. 

He said he thinks the Senate is onto something that he would support if it “gets through” and has no doubt that many businesses will want to “partake.”

In fact, a bill meeting his parameters beginning with 15 stores, passed the Senate last Thursday at midnight on a vote in which several Republican senators supported, while one Democrat objected.

While the House has in many votes passed measures in the past to legalize marijuana, it has always faltered in the Senate where the Republican controlled body has balked.

That changed last Thursday night.

The vote on the amended House Bill 1633 was 14-10 with Republican Senators Dan Innis, of Bradford, Keith Murphy of Manchester, Tim Lang of Sanbornton, Howard Pearl of Loudon and Daryl Abbas of Salem voting with nine Democrats. The only Democrat to oppose HB 1633 was Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester.

Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro who opposed legalization but worked on many amendments on HB 1633 to place guardrails said those in the minority on this matter should feel that this is a better product than what the House presented.

“As this bill leaves this body tonight,” Bradley said and goes to the House “we need to fortify our efforts.”

He will likely be named to a committee of conference. 

Cannabis legalization supporters panned the changes made in the Senate and said its delay will only mean people continue to go out of state until 2026 to buy their weed among other concerns.

Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem said he tried to mitigate harm with his amendments to the House bill.

One major important thing to him is that the state has more control over the black market because day one, the Liquor Commission will have the law enforcement control over sales.

There will be a Cannabis Control Commission with oversight on what is sold and to whom.

The product will not be taxed at the consumer level but there will be a wholesale cost which is estimated to bring in as state revenue millions of dollars a year.

The aim is to have that be below black market costs and to be competitive with other states which have been enjoying lots of New Hampshire residents coming in and buying from them.

Revenue estimates vary but some show that the state could receive upwards of $40 million a year from cannabis sales.

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