Updated: House torches legal recreational marijuana bill by narrow five-vote margin after Senate approval

FILE - Marijuana plants are displayed at a shop in San Francisco, Monday, March 20, 2023.

FILE - Marijuana plants are displayed at a shop in San Francisco, Monday, March 20, 2023. Jeff Chiu/AP file photo


Monitor staff

Published: 06-13-2024 2:47 PM

Modified: 06-13-2024 5:15 PM

New Hampshire’s bill to legalize marijuana got a breath of fresh air after receiving Senate approval, only to be tabled by the House by a five-vote margin, halting its progress towards the Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk this year.

Rep. Jared Sullivan said he wants cannabis legalization in New Hampshire, but expressed skepticism about the current bill, suggesting that now is not the right time due to its significant flaws.

He criticized the provision that would allocate $8 million to the New Hampshire Liquor Commission for regulating the proposed government-run cannabis industry.

“Does anyone in here actually believe that we will be able to reel in a newly empowered government bureaucracy after they’ve spent millions of dollars?” Sullivan asked. “If next year we have the ability to pass a new bill to fix this terrible one, then we should just pass a good bill next year.”

House Bill 1633, which aimed to legalize and regulate marijuana, was tabled with a narrow House vote of 178-173. Attempts to bring the bill back for further consideration were unsuccessful.

But the Senate voted 14-10 in favor of the bill.

Senator Shannon Chandley acknowledged that House Bill 1633 has imperfections but emphasized its alignment with the desires of New Hampshire residents at this time.

“We recognize that major legislation is rarely flawless. We may need to revisit this,” she said. “But currently, what’s crucial is that this bill addresses the will of our state’s people. They want cannabis legalization.”

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Under the bill, smoking or vaping cannabis in a car by passengers is prohibited, with no mention made for the use of edibles as requested by the House.

Another point of compromise was the possession limit, which was increased from three-quarters of an ounce to one ounce. The House had initially proposed two ounces, but both chambers settled on one ounce.

Opposition to the bill was voiced by critics such as Sen. Bill Gannon, who expressed concerns about its potential impact on New Hampshire’s environment and families.

“Is this bill gonna make New Hampshire a better place to live work and raise a family? I don’t think so,” said Sen. Bill Gannon.

New Hampshire currently stands as the only state in New England without legalized recreational marijuana.

According to the ACLU NH, the state’s marijuana laws are enforced with significant racial bias.

In 2020, Black people were 4.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared with whites, despite similar usage rates between both groups.

“Marijuana legalization is not just a political squabble about the economic benefits – the war on marijuana has real-life impacts,” Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, said in a statement. “While politicians argue, the impacts of these arrests will continue to ruin lives.”

Gannon warned of the dangers he believes legalization could bring.

“It’s going to be tainted with fentanyl,” he cautioned. “Those people are going to think they’re okay now using marijuana and they are going to die.”

Chandley argued that since marijuana is already present in the state, it is necessary to regulate it through the passage of this bill.

“Many of the stories that we heard from opponents of cannabis legalization described a problem that we currently have an d that our current laws are not doing anything to rectify,” she said. “So I suggest to you that passing this bill makes cannabis legal as most of our residents want, but it also can give us the opportunity to reduce harm and provide the structure of regulation.”