Latest bid to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire bogs down in House committee

By JOSH ROGERS

New Hampshire Public Radio

Published: 05-31-2023 3:57 PM

Confusion over policy detail and concerns over legislative process have derailed a late push by lawmakers in the New Hampshire House to legalize marijuana in the state this year.

The House could still try to again pass a new legalization plan via floor amendment in the coming weeks. But concerns raised by members of the House Commerce Committee Tuesday doomed efforts to fast track a plan to legalize adult possession of up to 4 oz of marijuana and put the state liquor commission in control of all sales.

“What I’m hearing is that this committee feels this amendment is not ready for prime time,” said Rep. John Hunt, the committee’s chairman.

That was shortly before the committee opted not to attach his proposal to another bill.

Hunt, a Republican from Rindge, wrote the now-stalled legalization plan, with input from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, in the hopes of satisfying Gov. Chris Sununu.

Sununu, a longtime skeptic of recreational marijuana, surprised many in Concord earlier this month by saying he would sign the “right” plan to legalize cannabis this year, if lawmakers could pass one.

Sununu’s announcement came only after the state Senate rejected the House’s main legalization proposal, and the rushed nature of Hunt’s bill, crafted without Sununu’s input, was evident.

“I would respectfully characterize this as a problem of contradictions in the legislative language,” Matt Simon, of Prime Alternative Treatment Center, one of the state’s therapeutic cannabis providers, told the committee, Tuesday.

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The way the proposal sought to treat medical cannabis providers, and whether it would ultimately allow them to sell recreational marijuana, was just one point of concern.

Members of the committee expressed deep differences over marijuana itself.

One lawmaker repeatedly — and incorrectly — characterized cannabis as a “narcotic.”

Another mentioned they had last used marijuana more than 50 years ago.

A third lawmaker questioned whether setting any possession limit on marijuana was appropriate.

“I mean, once we legalized beer, I can have 12 kegs in my truck if I want to,” noted Rep. Jared Sullivan of Bethlehem.

Technical glitches — including a purportedly balky State House photocopy machine — delayed lawmakers’ receipt of clean copies of the bill, which may have exacerbated the rambling nature of Tuesday’s deliberations.

“This process has been unbelievable, shady. It’s just not the way we should conduct business,” Rep. Jane Beaulieu, a Democrat from Manchester, said.

Hunt, meanwhile, said after the hearing that he’d tried to get a legalization bill to Sununu this session, and is now setting his sights on next year.

“At this point, I don’t see the need to do anything more on this until the fall, and we can try to get him a bill in January,” Hunt said.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.