New Hampshire is the only state in the New England area that has not legalized recreational cannabis use for adults. However, that may be about to change after a bill to legalize marijuana in the state clears its first big hurdle. Recently, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a measure seeking to legalize the sale of marijuana in the state.
What happens to the bill now, and what are the chances that this measure will pass where others have failed? The hope is, with enough bipartisan support, New Hampshire residents will join the growing coalition of states in the Northeast and across the country that have legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana use for adults.
What Is House Bill 639?
House Bill 639 is a bipartisan effort to legalize recreational cannabis for purchase and possession. If passed, adults over 21 would be legally allowed to possess and gift up to four ounces of marijuana. However, localities would be allowed limit or ban marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdiction. Other features of the bill would tax cannabis cultivators at 15 percent of their monthly gross income, and there would be no statewide cap on the number of marijuana businesses licensed in the state. The bill also outlines how the newly renamed Liquor and Cannabis Commission would take over regulating the newly legal cannabis market.
The proposed legislation also highlights how revenue from cannabis sales can be spent statewide. 80% of tax revenue from the sale of recreational cannabis would support an education trust fund. 10% of tax revenue would fund substance misuse treatment programs, while five percent would support local municipalities with at least one operational retailer. The final five percent of tax revenue from cannabis sales would help fund public organizations like local police and fire departments.
While the measure seeks to legalize cannabis use and sales responsibly and safely, it has taken a lot of back and forth to get to this point. One major change to the legislation meant putting the state’s existing Liquor Commission in charge of regulating the recreational marijuana market instead of creating a new and independent commission to do the job. Members of the House Commerce and Consumers Affairs Liquor Subcommittee spent weeks negotiating the specifics of the provisions in the measure adding their insight and recommendations.
What Makes House Bill 639 Unique?
One of the most unique and positive attributes that House Bill 639 has going for it is its bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. The legislation sponsors are Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R) and Minority Leader Matthew Wilhelm (D). Notably, a Democrat and a Republican are working together to bring marijuana legalization to New Hampshire. Although some Republicans are speaking out against the measure, saying it does not contribute to the “common good” of the state, the bill passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 234 to 127. The bill will next appear before the Ways and Means Committee, where a public hearing must be held unless the rules are suspended by the committee members who are present.
While there may still be a political debate on the horizon for House Bill 639, a recent study indicates that an overwhelming majority of New Hampshire residents support legalizing cannabis sales in the state. A study by the University of New Hampshire shows that 71% of respondents support legalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis for recreational use. Only 18 percent of poll respondents oppose legalization efforts.
The Future of House Bill 639 and Legalization in New Hampshire
The victory in the House of Representatives is encouraging. However, there is still a long road to legalization in New Hampshire. The measure next heads to the House Ways & Means Committee for debate before moving to the House floor for a full vote. If passed, the bill moves to the Senate, where it will arguably face its toughest challenge.
Traditionally, marijuana legalization measures stall in the New Hampshire Senate. The New Hampshire Senate has blocked several legalization efforts in past years, making New Hampshire the only state in New England without a legalized cannabis law. Legalization supporters hope this year is different now that there are new members in the Senate. Voters recently sent three new Senate members to the governing body who have expressed support for cannabis legalization measures in the past. If a handful of Republican Senators join Democrats in supporting House Bill 639, it would be a victory for legalization efforts in the state.
However, a win in both chambers does not guarantee an automatic victory for the people of New Hampshire. Recently re-elected Gov. Chris Sununu (R) says he still opposes marijuana legalization. The Governor publicly states that he does not believe that plans to legalize recreational marijuana in New Hampshire will reach his desk this year. Even if House Bill 639 does pass the House and Senate, the Governor can veto the measure, preventing it from taking effect. It is unlikely the Senate has the number of votes it would take to override a potential veto.
Some proponents hope that political and public pressure may help Governor Sununu change his mind if the legislation does pass and hit his desk for approval. Governor Sununu won re-election in the state with only 57% of the vote. It could be possible Governor Sununu may not want to risk opposing a popular measure able to withstand the scrutiny of a Republican-controlled House and Senate.
Proponents of cannabis legalization in New Hampshire will have to wait and see how House Bill 639 fares in the coming weeks. Other cannabis legalization measures are also working through the New Hampshire legislative process, giving supporters hope that some kind of legislation will make it to the governor’s desk during this legislative cycle.
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