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New Hampshire Senate President Says He Hopes Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies In His Chamber

Ahead of further consideration by the New Hampshire Senate this week of a House-passed bill to legalize marijuana, the body’s president says he’s hoping the proposal fails to make it out of his chamber.



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“I don’t want to see it get out of the Senate, period,” Sen. Jeb Bradley (R) said in an interview with WMUR that aired on Sunday.


Bradley said he wasn’t interested in crafting any political deals around cannabis legalization, noting that he has major concerns with the proposal.

 

“Marijuana is going to rise or fall on its own merits,” he said. “I think there are significant problems with legalizing marijuana—health problems [and] mental health problems that are increasingly becoming documented.”


“I don’t think any state should invite the black market into their state for marijuana, and that’s what will happen,” the Senate president argued. “And look, I say that as somebody that was the architect of the compromise to decriminalize marijuana. But sometimes a step too far is a step too far, and that’s what I think marijuana is.”


Though he’d rather the bill die in the Senate, Bradley said in the interview that he nevertheless feels an obligation to adjust the proposal to address his concerns in case it does pass.


“If there are 13 votes for it, I’m gonna try to make it the most user friendly for New Hampshire,” he explained. “So keeping the black market out, making sure the regulatory process is tight, making sure that there is a THC limit on the products that can be sold, and making sure that big marijuana—you know, the same as Big Tobacco—is not dominating the politics of the statehouse. To me that’s really important if it’s going to pass.”


Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee became the first-ever Senate panel to sign off on a marijuana legalization proposal, approving it on a narrow, 3–2 vote. Before advancing the measure, HB 1633, the committee approved a sweeping amendment from Sen. Daryl Abbas (R), who chaired a failed state commission on legalization late last year.


The bill next heads to the Senate floor, where further amendments could be made before it potentially proceeds to a second Senate committee.


In its current version, the proposal would allow 15 stores to open statewide under a novel state-run franchise system, under which the state’s Liquor Commission would oversee the look, feel and operations of the retail shops. Among other revisions, Abbas’s amendment increased the proposed penalties for public consumption of marijuana to include the possibility of jail time and would levy a franchise fee—effectively a tax—on medical marijuana purchases.


Abbas’s amendment also limits each municipality to only a single cannabis retail establishment unless it’s home to more than 50,000 people. Only two cities in the state, Manchester and Nashua, meet that threshold. Local voters would also need to pre-approve the industry in order for businesses to open in that jurisdiction.


Though advocates have said they’re pleased to see New Hampshire make progress toward legalization, they’re also concerned about some of Abbas’s latest changes.


ACLU of New Hampshire and other civil rights advocates have opposed the increased penalties for public consumption, for example, warning that it would lead to disproportionately severe and lasting consequences and could end up costing the state more money because it will be required to provide defense lawyers for defendants who cannot afford one.


Bradley, the Senate president, also offered a package of changes at last week’s hearing. Among other adjustments, they would have eliminated the possibility for vertical integration by cannabis businesses, removed provisions limiting asset forfeiture around marijuana activity, limited THC content in cannabis products to no more than 15 percent, mandated that products be tested for a list of contaminants already in place in Canada and required that workers in the industry complete mandatory mental health and reporting trainings. The proposal was not adopted by the panel, however.


Abbas explained to colleagues that he’s not excited about the prospect of legalization, but he feels it makes more sense for New Hampshire to regulate marijuana as it becomes more widely available in New England.


“Is this a huge win for the state? I’m not saying that,” he said. “I just have concerns right now because we’re dealing with what we can’t control. We can’t control what they do in Maine.


We can’t control what they do in Vermont. We can’t control what they do in Massachusetts.”


“A lot of the problems that can come from this, I think we got it—we’re already dealing with it,” Abbas added. “This was my best guess to mitigate some of those negative impacts.”


For example, in response Bradley’s concerns about “inviting” the illicit market into New Hampshire, Abbas has emphasized that adults in New Hampshire are already buying marijuana from neighboring states—cannabis is legal for adults in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont—and then bringing products back into New Hampshire. Abbas and others have argued that’s a financial loss for the state, which could be making revenue from cannabis sales.


Speaking to local reporters last week, Tim Egan, a former state representative who’s now a lobbyist for the New Hampshire Cannabis Association, said he believes there are enough votes in the Senate, which has defeated numerous House-passed legalization bills in prior sessions, to finally send a proposal to the governor’s desk this year.

“I think this is the year,” Egan said.


But even if the legislature sends HB 1633 to Gov. Chris Sununu (R), the governor has expressed skepticism of the plan, saying recently that he’ll only sign the bill if specific provisions are included. “Fundamentally I don’t really love this idea anyway,” he said, but he explained that he sees legalization as “inevitable.”


The legalization proposal passed out of the House a month ago amid warnings from Abbas and some other senators that the bill would be dead on arrival in their chamber. Sununu similarly said he wouldn’t sign the bill in its House-passed form.


The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R), told Marijuana Moment in a brief comment ahead of Wednesday’s hearing that she’s “hopeful that the Senate will pass a version of this legislation which can pass the House.”


In March, when a House subcommittee was considering a bill, members rejected a sweeping amendment backed by Abbas that would have replaced Layon’s plan with a franchise model. Layon has warned senators not to take House lawmakers’ votes for granted if they make considerable changes to her bill.


With only several months left in Sununu’s term, observers are also weighing how the governor’s potential replacements would greet legalization. At least one possible successor, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R)—one of a handful of gubernatorial candidates that’s entered the race—said recently that she opposes legalizing marijuana for adults.


“I don’t think legalizing marijuana is the right direction for our state,” said Ayotte, who represented New Hampshire in the Senate from 2011 to 2017 and was previously the state’s attorney general from 2004 to 2009.


Lawmakers worked extensively on marijuana reform issues last session and attempted to reach a compromise to enact legalization through a multi-tiered system that would include state-controlled shops, dual licensing for existing medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses privately licensed to individuals by state agencies. The legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation.


Bicameral lawmakers also convened the state commission tasked with studying legalization and proposing a path forward last year, though the group ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation.



Last May, the House defeated marijuana legalization language that was included in a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also moved to table another piece of legislation that month that would have allowed patients and designated caregivers to cultivate up to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings for personal therapeutic use.


After the Senate rejected the reform bills in 2022, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation—but that was also struck down in the opposite chamber.

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