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After months of debate, NH House shelves plan to legalize marijuana in state

Cannabis sign at State House
Josh Rogers
/
NHPR
A person holds a sign supporting marijuana legalization outside the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

After months of State House negotiations and bipartisan votes, the effort to legalize cannabis in New Hampshire and sell it at 15 state-awarded franchises fell short Thursday, as House lawmakers voted to set the last remaining bill on the issue aside for the year.

The 178-173 vote to table the bill, and the subsequent failure to overturn the motion by a wider margin, ends the legalization debate in Concord for now, but it keeps legalization alive as a campaign year issue.

“Literally no one in this body likes this bill,” Rep Jared Sullivan, a Democrat from Bethlehem who backs legalization, told colleagues shortly before the tabling vote.

For Sullivan and other critics, a major flaw with the proposal up for a vote Thursday was the sweeping new authority it would have given the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, including $8 million in funding to set up a system to regulate cannabis.

But other legalization supporters urged colleagues to look past their reservations.

“Today we have the chance to get this ball rolling in New Hampshire,” said Rep. Erica Layon, a Republican from Derry who wrote the House’s preferred legalization plan, which envisioned sales at privately owned stores, not franchises.

“Most of this bill won’t go into effect until 2026, which gives us more time to fight about the challenges and some of the concerns we have about this bill,” Layon said.

The franchise model was a policy driven by the preferences of Gov. Chris Sununu, who stopped short of promising to sign the bill before it failed Thursday. A day before the vote, however, Sununu said the bill “checked a lot of boxes.”

Thursday’s outcome, while not a shock given the deep reservation many House members had about this bill’s final form, inverts the typical dynamic in Concord when it comes to marijuana legalization, which has historically enjoyed strong support in the House and encountered solid opposition in the Senate.

This bill, while opposed by Senate President Jeb Bradley, won passage in that chamber by a 14-10 margin.

“What’s crucial is that this bill addresses the will of our state’s people,” said Sen. Shannon Chandley, a Democrat from Amherst before the Senate vote. “They want cannabis legalization.”

But the vote in the House means they won’t be getting it anytime soon — and that New Hampshire will remain the only state in New England without legalized recreational marijuana.

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Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.