LEGALIZE IT! Senate and House Agree To Historic Adult Cannabis Sales

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Marijuana and a joint.


CONCORD – Take a deep breath, New Hampshire cannabis enthusiasts.

Senate and House conferees came to an agreement Thursday on a bill they can support and which the governor is likely to sign, that creates a system to sell cannabis to adults in the same way the state sells liquor.

But enthusiasts will have to hold their breath until about January 2026, as not a single bud can be sold legally until then.

 The committee of conference vote was in the affirmative except for Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, as expected.

It was a happy day for supporters, who claim more than 70 percent of those polled in the state favor legal adult cannabis sales. But it was a bummer for law enforcement and others who opposed it concerned it would add to youth addiction and forever change the state’s culture, as state Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry warned.

For others, this was a long day coming.

“This makes the state safer,” said Tim Egan, an advocate who represents the New Hampshire Cannabis Association, saying it allows users access to a tested product rather than the black market and allows for the state to recoup some of the losses now going out of state where it is legal in all surrounding states.

Passage sets the stage for the state to become the 25th state in the nation to legalize adult use of cannabis but different in that it would be controlled by the state’s liquor commission.

The deal, which could bring more than $35 million a year in revenue from 15 franchise stores by 2026, is expected to be signed by the governor because it contains his “asks.”

A spokesman said Gov. Chris Sununu hasn’t yet reviewed the measure.

Sen. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, offered a compromise to the House which would allow for decriminalization of up to one ounce of marijuana without penalty where now the limit is three-quarters of an ounce. The House wanted two ounces to be immediately legalized as it will be in full implementation.

The Senate, Lang said, would accede to the House amendment request to allow vehicle passengers to be in possession of edible cannabis without being in violation of the law if they are therapeutic cannabis card holders. In the bill it would be illegal to smoke or vape in public or in a vehicle and the driver could lose their license regardless of whether or not they were using the drug.

Another “ask” of the House was to give those who already sell cannabis for medicinal purposes, the Alternative Treatment Centers, priority in gaining a franchise license with the state and setting up a time period for them to convert from non-profit to for-profit status for those stores.

The House wanted to see two more members of the potential cannabis control commission from the cannabis sales community but the Senate would agree to only one more.

Senate President Bradley, who voted against the legislation, has said he was working on the committee to craft what he believes would be a better product than what came from the House. He told conferees he could not support immediate decriminalization for up to two ounces Wednesday.

Egan said an important part of the bill is that the ATCs get preference for franchise licenses because of their past experience caring for patients in New Hampshire and having an existing working relationship with the state.

State Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, who chairs the committee of conference, said he spoke with officials at the Liquor Commission who said they could set up bid scoring to allow for 15 extra points for having previous experience in New Hampshire. Whether or not that needed to be in the bill or a matter of rules was debated.

Egan said the way things are now set up, it is “at least an on ramp” to full legalization in January, 2026.

“This is not a perfect bill,” he said, but committee members with the exception of Bradley have told him that the state needs to start legalization somewhere and this at least lets people know the framework and what will happen.

The state would agree to a 15 percent “tax” at the franchise level meaning those who sell it would pay the fee on a monthly basis and they would incorporate that into the cost of the product.

House members had said they wanted to see it at 12.5 percent but the Senate did not want to agree to lowering it from their version of the bill.

The measure requires there to be voter approval in each community that would host a store.

Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, said, “New Hampshire is finally just a few steps away from making 2024 the year it legalizes marijuana. Signing marijuana legalization into law would ensure that our state stops arresting Granite Staters for marijuana possession – around a thousand per year, and who are disproportionately Black. We thank the Committee of Conference members for coming to a compromise, and are hopeful that the full House and Senate will adopt the Committee of Conference report and send it to Governor Sununu’s desk to put an end to the harmful, real-life impacts of marijuana prohibition.”

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