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NH House rejects Senate marijuana legalization plan

Cannabis sign at State House
Josh Rogers
/
NHPR
A person holds a sign supporting marijuana legalization as state representatives enter the New Hampshire House of Representatives on April 6, 2023.

Lawmakers in the New Hampshire House have rejected Senate changes to a bill that would legalize marijuana in the state. The move means House and Senate negotiators now have a week to find something that has eluded state lawmakers for years: accord on cannabis legalization.

It also dims the chances that New Hampshire will soon join 24 other states – including the rest of New England – in allowing recreational marijuana for adults.

The House has for the past decade repeatedly voted to legalize cannabis, regardless of which party held the majority.

Until last week, the Republican-led Senate never backed a legalization bill.

Thursday’s House vote to reject the Senate plan – but approve a committee of conference over the bill – came after several staunch advocates for legalization took to the House floor to deride the Senate’s proposal as too flawed to support. That plan would have pushed off legalization until 2026 and create a 15-outlet franchise system for selling marijuana.

“This is not the New Hampshire solution,“ Rep. Kevin Verville, a Deerfield Republican, said. ”This is not what we are looking for.”

But the Senate plan is what Gov. Chris Sununu has said he would sign. Sununu had meanwhile promised to reject the version of the bill that cleared the House earlier this session.

The House’s plan would legalize marijuana immediately, allow adults to possess up to 4 ounces and let 15 state-approved but privately owned stores sell it.

The complicated State House politics surrounding cannabis – including the fact that Republican leaders in the Senate oppose legalization – were featured during Thursday’s floor debate.

“That is the number one reason why you must vote today. You must vote yes,” said Rep John Hunt, a Republican from Ringe. “We have got to get marijuana off the block. We’ve got to get it going.”

But too few were persuaded.

“Yes, our constituents want legalization, and so do I,” said Rep. Heath Howard, a Democrat from Strafford. “But as representatives we have an obligation to insist on better policy.”

House and Senate negotiators have until June 6, to reach a deal on cannabis legalization. Any agreement on the policy would need to be voted on by the full House and Senate before June 13.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.