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Marijuana legalization faces possible roadblock in New Hampshire Senate

Cannabis is displayed inside the Mountain Girl Cannabis store, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Rutland, Vt. Vermont's recreational retail marijuana market opens Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, with three stores doing business. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)
Lisa Rathke
/
AP
Cannabis is displayed inside a store in Vermont, where the recreational retail marijuana market opened in October 2022. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not legalized marijuana for recreational use.

The push to legalize recreational marijuana in New Hampshire hit a snag Tuesday after the Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against the bill.

The three Republicans on the committee voted not to recommend the proposal, while the two Democrats supported it.

The measure, which passed the House on a strong bipartisan margin last month, still needs a vote before the full Senate. The Senate convenes Thursday and is expected to consider the committee’s recommendation to kill the bill.

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Sen. Rebecca Whitley, a Democrat from Hopkinton who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said she was disappointed by the vote. She supports legalization and argues the bill would be good for public health; right now, she said, it's difficult to know what is circulating on the illegal market.

“I think the black market is a scary thing, and I think this bill would go a long way to, you know, creating, establishing a highly regulated and responsible market for adult use,” she said.

Whitley also said New Hampshire is missing a chance to generate state revenue, losing money that’s being spent in neighboring states that have already legalized marijuana for adult use.

Critics have regularly raised public health concerns in marijuana debates at the State House, noting ongoing challenges with opioid addiction and abuse.

“New Hampshire, like many other states, is grappling with the devastating impact of the drug crisis on individuals, families, and communities,” Sen. Sharon Carson, the Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement following Tuesday’s vote. “While I recognize the diverse opinions surrounding the legalization of recreational drugs, now is not the right time for such a measure.”

On top of that, some advocates say Granite Staters are buying cannabis products elsewhere and bringing them across the border for consumption.

The House has passed a number of bills in recent years in favor of legalizing marijuana. The Senate has historically been the legislative bulwark.

The current legalization bill has bipartisan sponsors, including the top Republican and Democrat in the New Hampshire House.

It proposes regulating marijuana in a way similar to alcohol sales in New Hampshire. The state’s Liquor Commission would be tasked with licensing and enforcement.

Under the bill, anyone 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to 4 ounces of cannabis in plant form, 20 grams of concentrated cannabis products, and products containing no more than 2,000 milligrams of THC.

The revenues would go, in large part, toward reducing statewide property taxes, and supporting health programs and public safety, including substance abuse and recovery.

In other action Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along the same party line split against a bill to allow qualifying patients in the state's therapeutic cannabis program to grow a limited amount of marijuana for personal use.

Sen. Shannon Chandley, a Democrat from Amherst who sits on the committee, said the bill provided safeguards for patients and the public.

“Insurance doesn’t cover therapeutic cannabis,” she said. “So, for those folks who cannot afford out of pocket, home grown is the alternative."

Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.
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