NH Senate committee backs pot legalization bill

The New Hampshire State House in Concord.

The New Hampshire State House in Concord.

By RICK GREEN

The Keene Sentinel

Published: 05-09-2024 10:01 AM

A bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults cleared a key hurdle Wednesday with a recommendation by the N.H. Senate Judiciary Committee that the full Senate pass the measure.

Voting in favor of House Bill 1633 were Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem; Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua; and Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst. In opposition were Sens. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, and William Gannon, R-Sandown.

It would legalize the sale of marijuana in 15 franchise stores across New Hampshire. The state would be the franchiser, maintaining control over the stores and the marketing of their products.

HB 1633 passed the House, 239-136, on April 11. Abbas produced an amended version of the bill that was before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

He spoke in favor of the bill at the committee hearing, saying it would give the state a measure of control over a substance that is already flowing into New Hampshire from states that have legalized it.   

“We can’t control what they do in Maine. We can’t control what they do in Vermont. We can’t control what they do in Massachusetts,” he said. 

Any negative impacts associated with legalization are already present in New Hampshire, he said.

“This was my best effort to mitigate some of those negative impacts, as much as I could."  

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He noted that the legislation limits the number of stores that would be allowed, requires local approval before a store could open, and would help reduce illicit-market cannabis that could be a danger to the public.

The bill has provisions that would regulate the purity and strength of cannabis products. It also would be aimed at yielding some state revenue.

Abbas said the bill carries penalties adequate to enforce its prohibition against smoking marijuana in public. He acknowledged the smell of marijuana is objectionable to many people.

A first offense would be a violation similar to a traffic ticket. A second offense would carry a misdemeanor criminal penalty.

Gannon spoke against the bill.

“What are we doing?” he asked. “You’re going to add [15] more stores selling a product that is going to get our citizens high.

“We have a lot of citizens who drive vehicles, drive buses, work with heavy equipment. There are going to be employees who are going to go to work under the influence of THC. It’s going to hurt families. It’s going to hurt kids.”

The Senate may consider HB 1633 as soon as May 15. If senators pass the bill, it would be sent to another Senate committee for consideration of its financial aspects. It would then come back for another vote by the full Senate.

If it passes again, the House and Senate would work to reconcile differences between the versions of the bill each chamber passed. Once that is done, it would go to Gov. Chris Sununu and would go into law if he signs it.

Several marijuana legalization bills have passed the House only to die in the Senate in recent years, but Abbas has said this measure has a greater chance of success, particularly because it has been written to fulfill some of the requirements Sununu has identified as essential to win his support.

Those requirements include strong state control over sales and marketing and limitations on the number of retail outlets for cannabis.