The New Hampshire House of Representatives on April 7 approved bipartisan legislation to legalize cannabis for adults. The measure, House Bill 639 from Republican Representative Jason Osborne and Representative Matt Wilhelm, his Democratic colleague, was approved by the House by a vote of 272-109 late on Thursday. The legislation, which received initial approval from members of the House in February, now heads to the New Hampshire Senate for consideration.
“I am pleased to see New Hampshire take a step toward relieving gangsters and thugs from control of this market, keeping dangerous untested products away from consumers, and protecting children from harmful age-inappropriate products,” Osborne said in a statement after Thursday’s vote.
If passed by the state Senate and signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, House Bill 639 would legalize the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis for adults aged 21 and older. If adopted, New Hampshire would join the 21 states that have already legalized recreational marijuana, making the state the last in New England to end the prohibition on cannabis.
The legislation directs the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, which would be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Commission, to regulate the commercial cultivation, processing, safety testing and distribution of cannabis. The measure also sets a 15% tax on cannabis cultivation, with revenue raised by the tax dedicated largely to the state’s pension liability and New Hampshire’s education trust fund. Revenue raised from cannabis taxes would also be used to fund substance misuse programs and law enforcement training.
Under current New Hampshire law, simple possession of up to ¾ of an ounce of cannabis is a civil offense subject to a fine of up to $100. Possession of cannabis in amounts greater than ¾ of an ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $350.
“With the decisive passage of HB 639, the New Hampshire House has sent a strong message that this is the year to legalize adult-use cannabis in the Granite State,” Wilhelm said in a statement. “Every year we fail to legalize marijuana, the state wastes valuable resources and ruins the lives of many young and poor Granite Staters by enforcing failed prohibition.”
Previous Attempts To Legalize Cannabis in New Hampshire Failed
Previous attempts to legalize recreational marijuana in New Hampshire have also seen success in the House of Representatives but failed to gain approval in the state Senate. Supporters of HB 639 hope this year will be different.
“New Hampshire remains the only state in New England that has failed to legalize cannabis, while our neighbors benefit from increased revenue and their cannabis users benefit from safer testing and regulation of the product,” he continued. “Legalization of adult possession of small amounts of cannabis is the right thing to do for New Hampshire and we must get it done in 2023.”
While HB 639 was approved by the New Hampshire House of Representatives by a wide margin, the state Senate is less likely to vote in favor of the bill. The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate, however, including from Republican Senator Keith Murphy and Democrats Senator Becky Whitley and Senator Donovan Fenton, according to a report from The Center Square.
“Prohibition has proven over and over to be a failed public policy,” Murphy said in a statement. “It is especially ineffective when all of our surrounding states have already legalized marijuana possession and use. Investigating and prosecuting cannabis possession is a terrible waste of tax dollars. For these reasons, I am encouraging my Senate colleagues to support the bill.”
If the proposal is approved by the upper chamber of the state legislature, Sununu has indicated he will veto the bill if it makes it to his desk. If he does, the legislature would then have an opportunity to override the veto.