New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Headed To Conference Committee After House Rejects Senate Amendments - Grow Life 420

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Headed To Conference Committee After House Rejects Senate Amendments

May 30, 2024

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House lawmakers in New Hampshire have rejected Senate changes to a marijuana legalization bill, setting the stage for a conference committee to hammer out differences between versions of the legislation passed by either chamber. Many stakeholders think the development could spell the end for the proposal, however, because even a single member of the conference committee could block the path to final passage.

The House on Thursday voted 196–173 to send the legislation to a conference committee following an earlier vote to reject sweeping Senate-made changes to the bill.

Several representatives who back legalization urged colleagues not to sign off on the new Senate provisions just to get the broad reform enacted.

“Instead of rushing to pass a bill that we all know is flawed, let’s reject this amendment and insist on making better policies for our constituents,” Rep. Keith Howard (D) said before the House floor vote. “We will only get one chance to create a well regulated market for adult-use cannabis, and it’s important we get it right.”

“I know the vast majority of my constituents want legalized cannabis,” added Republican Kevin Verville (R). “They want it in New Hampshire and they want it sooner than later. But this is not the right approach for us.”

The House last month passed an earlier version of the bill, HB 1633, which the Senate later made sweeping changes to via major amendments from Sen. Daryl Abbas (R) and Senate President Jeb Bradley (R), among others. Bradley, who himself opposes legalization, repeatedly said that if the legislation had the votes to pass, he intended to tailor it more to his and the governor’s liking.

Some House lawmakers urged colleagues to grit their teeth and sign off on the Senate version of the bill, warning that supporters of legalization are missing an opportunity to skip a conference committee and send the proposal immediately to Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

Sununu has indicated he’d support the bill with the Senate changes but would oppose the measure as passed by the House. He said this week that if the House passed the bill with the Senate’s changes, he’d sign it.

“I think the Senate version is OK,” Sununu told NH Journal. “They put some other stuff in there that I wasn’t necessarily looking for, but they’re not deal breakers.”

But if House lawmakers “want to make significant changes,” the governor added, “then it’s not going to pass. It’s that easy.”

One factor worrying some advocates is that the Republican candidates likely to replace Sununu when his gubernatorial term expires early next year have signaled that they’d oppose the reform. That means a failure to legalize marijuana this session could delay the policy change indefinitely.

Because the House and Senate have now passed different versions of the legislation, HB 1633, it next proceeds to a conference committee consisting of lawmakers from both chambers.

While finding compromise is panel’s the ostensible goal, reform advocates expect the bicameral committee will be set up to kill the bill, at least on the Senate side. Bradley, the Senate president, will not only pick the members of the committee from that chamber, but he also indicated this week that he might appoint himself to the panel.

Abbas told Marijuana Moment earlier this week that he’s “not optimistic” the bill “would survive a committee of conference.”

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Sununu, for his part, has said that while he personally opposes legalization, he believes the policy change is “inevitable.”

Polls indicate that upward of 70 percent of New Hampshire voters support legalizing and regulating marijuana.

While HB 1633 was initially introduced by Rep. Erica Layon (R), the Senate changes shifted its core regulatory approach to one discussed late last year by a state commission on legalization chaired by Abbas. Though that body ultimately failed at its charge of crafting legislation to enact the reform, Abbas and others in the Senate incorporated a number of provisions that were raised during discussions last year.

If the committee does undertake its work in earnest, its job will be to reconcile two complex bills that differ significantly on regulatory structure, criminal justice, licensing, personal possession and THC limits, tax rates, medical marijuana and sundry other issues.

As passed by the Senate, the bill would allow 15 franchise stores to open statewide. Purchases would incur a 15 percent “franchise fee”—effectively a tax—that would apply to both adult-use and medical marijuana purchases. Though stores would be privately run, the government would control their look, feel and operations. The Liquor Commission would have the authority, for example, to set final prices on cannabis products.

Marijuana possession wouldn’t become legal until 2026, once the state’s licensed market is up and running.

The proposal would limit each municipality to only a single cannabis retail establishment unless it’s home to more than 50,000 people, though only two cities in the state, Manchester and Nashua, meet that threshold. Local voters would also need to pre-approve the industry in order for businesses to open in that jurisdiction.

Adults could possess up to two ounces of marijuana under the Senate plan. Home cultivation of cannabis for personal use would remain illegal, and the state’s Cannabis Control Commission would have the authority to enforce that provision.

Smoking or vaping marijuana in public would be a violation on the first offense and an misdemeanor for second or subsequent offenses within five years, a charge that could carry jail time. Consuming cannabis in other forms in public—for example, drinking an THC-infused beverage—would carry no punishment, unlike open container rules around alcohol.

The bill would also outlaw consumption of cannabis by any means, including edibles, by any driver or passenger of a vehicle being driven in any way. That would also be an unclassified misdemeanor with the potential for jail time.

The version of the bill passed by the House in April, by contrast, would legalize through a so-called “agency store” model proposed by Layon, in which the state would oversee a system of privately run stores, with strict limits on marketing and advertising. That version also includes a higher personal possession limit of four ounces and a lower, 12 percent fee on purchases. Further, medical marijuana would be been exempt from the state surcharge, and personal possession would become legal immediately.

The House bill, like the Senate version, would not allow home cultivation of cannabis.

The Senate changes led supporters of the reform to disagree on how the House should proceed. Advocates with the state ACLU chapter and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), who poured hours into lobbying lawmakers on the bill, said the revised proposal represented an imperfect but nevertheless important reform in New Hampshire, urging House lawmakers to accept the Senate changes and move the legislation along.

Other advocates, however, including the New Hampshire Cannabis Association (NHCann) and the bill’s lead sponsor, Layon, argued the House shouldn’t sign off on the amendments, even if that meant derailing the bill.

New Hampshire lawmakers worked extensively on marijuana reform issues last session and attempted to reach a compromise to enact legalization through a multi-tiered system that would include state-controlled shops, dual licensing for existing medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses privately licensed to individuals by state agencies. The legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation.

Bicameral lawmakers also convened the state commission tasked with studying legalization and proposing a path forward last year, though the group ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation.

The Senate defeated a more conventional House-passed legalization bill last year, HB 639, despite bipartisan support.

Last May, the House defeated marijuana legalization language that was included in a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also moved to table another piece of legislation that month that would have allowed patients and designated caregivers to cultivate up to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings for personal therapeutic use.

After the Senate rejected the reform bills in 2022, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation—but that was also struck down in the opposite chamber.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

The post New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Headed To Conference Committee After House Rejects Senate Amendments appeared first on Marijuana Moment.



Ben Adlin, KahliBuds, 420GrowLife

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