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N.H. House Republican and Democratic leaders unite on marijuana legalization bill

Marijuana Vermont. AP photo for NHPR. Oct. 1, 2022.
Lisa Rathke
/
AP
New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not legalized marijuana. Here, cannabis is displayed inside the Mountain Girl Cannabis store in Rutland, Vermont.

The top Republican and Democrat in New Hampshire's House of Representatives are teaming up to introduce a bill to legalize the possession and retail sale of marijuana in New Hampshire.

The bill, which has yet to be released, already has the backing of a coalition that includes the liberal American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Americans for Prosperity.

The proposal would permit anyone over 21 to possess or give away up to 4 ounces of marijuana, annul records of past marijuana possession offenses and allow state-approved retailers to sell cannabis. Retail sales would be taxed at 8.5%.

It would also allow adults over age 21 to "securely cultivate up to six plants (three of which may be mature), and possess the cannabis produced by those plants at home."

“The House has long stood united in finding a pathway to getting this done for Granite Staters," said House Majority Leader Jason Osborne. "With any luck, the Senate will come around to supporting the will of the vast majority of New Hampshire citizens."

Money generated by the marijuana sales would be earmarked for state pensions and substance abuse prevention. It would also flow to towns that permit retail sales and to law enforcement.

House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm pointed to New Hampshire’s outlier status in the region when it comes to legalizing recreational marijuana. He said in addition to increased revenue, cannabis users in neighboring states “benefit from safer testing and regulation of the product."

"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," Wilhelm said.

New Hampshire decriminalized marijuana for personal use in 2017.

But according to the ACLU, 1,120 people were charged with marijuana possession in New Hampshire in 2021 alone. The ACLU says arrest data shows Black people are far more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white people, even though both groups use cannabis at comparable rates.

The House has repeatedly backed plans to legalize cannabis; the Senate never has.

Gov. Chris Sununu is another potential obstacle.

Sununu has said it may be inevitable that New Hampshire joins neighboring states to legalize marijuana.

But as recently as last week Sununu told CNN that “we are not there,” and called legalization “still rife with a lot of problems.“

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.