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Marijuana Bill Preview: Cannabis Legalization Proposal Estimates A $33 Million Windfall For N.H.

A bill to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire in 2019 would raise $33 million a year and regulate cannabis in a way similar to alcohol in New Hampshire.

In a first preview of his bipartisan bill, State Representative Renny Cushing says it builds upon the work of a recent marijuana study commission. He provided NHPR a draft copy of the legislation, which has yet to be made public, for review.

“We’ve done our best to address every concern that was raised, certainly every concern that was raised in the year and a half study that the Abrami committee undertook,” Cushing tells NHPR.

“You know, quite frankly, I think we’re in a situation where we’re on the right side of history, so to speak.”  

Gov. Chris Sununu remains opposed to marijuana legalization, as do some public health advocacy groups, including New Futures.

While Cushing says the bill builds upon the work of a recent marijuana study commission, Kate Frey, Vice President of Advocacy at New Futures, said in November that the commission’s report outlined the risks to young people in New Hampshire. "At a time when we are battling the worst public health crisis in New Hampshire’s history, we cannot sacrifice the future of our young people by commercializing this harmful substance," she said in a statement today.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police also opposes legalization.

Cushing says lawmakers should follow the will of the people and join neighboring states that have already legalized recreational cannabis.

What's in the bill?

If passed, the bill would legalize up to an ounce of recreational pot and 5 grams of concentrated cannabis for those 21 and older. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants, three of them mature.

The bill would establish a cannabis control commission to license and regulate cannabis businesses. It bans public consumption of cannabis, and give towns and cities a say - a municipality would be able to enact an ordinance prohibiting or limiting the number or type of cannabis establishments.

Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, seen here wearing a blue tie, during one of the marijuana study commission's meeting in October.

Cannabis locations would be banned from being within 1,000 feet of a school, and would be prohibited from selling alcohol.

A drug monitoring initiative would produce a report on cannabis, including youth and adult rates alcohol, cannabis, and illegal drug use.

The bill proposes a tax of $30 an ounce at the wholesale level. It also includes language on manufacturing and testing, including restrictions on advertising, safe packaging, and warnings on labeling.

It would appropriate $2 million to create the Cannabis Control Commission. And $100,000 would be appropriated upfront to establish the drug monitoring effort and collection of baseline data.

Cannabis revenues, including fees, taxes and civil penalties, would go to a new cannabis control fund to implement the proposed new law, with 33 percent going to the state's general fund. Funding from this fund would include:

  • Money to the Department of Health and Human Services for public education and for voluntary programs for the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.
  • Funding to towns and cities where cannabis establishments are located
  • Support for public safety agencies, police and fire, for hiring and training drug experts, and for impaired roadside driving enforcement training

Proposed penalties in the bill include violations for public smoking and consuming cannabis in a moving vehicle, as well as offenses for cultivation in restricted areas or property visible to the public.
The $33 million revenue marker is a conservative estimate, and the pricepoint is tailor to stamp down on the illegal, black market, according to Cushing.(The study commission's final report indicated a range, with up to $58 million revenue possible, depending on the taxing structure.)

The legislation also sets up an avenue for people to petition the court to annul an arrest or court records for conviction of marijuana possession of three-quarters of an ounce. That provision is tied to Sept. 16, 2017, the effective date for New Hampshire’s marijuana decriminalization.

The bill also legalizes and regulates hemp as an agricultural product.

A bipartisan effort

The bill's sponsors include John Reagan, R-Deerfield, and Martha Hennessy, D-Hanover, in the Senate. House sponsors include three former Republican committee chairs: Carol McGuire, John O’Connor, and Jim Webb. O’Connor was a sponor of the bill that created the marijuana study commission.

Reagan is a legislative leader on the state’s medical marijuana law. He has a couple of proposed bills concerning updates to the state law governing therapeutic use of cannabis, including expanding access, allowing qualified patients and their caregivers to grow cannabis, and adding opioid addiction as a qualifying use under the law.

The legalization bill also features a proposed path for current medical marijuana dispensaries in New Hampshire to engage in commercial sales, something that came up during the study commission’s work on the pros and cons of potential legalization.


What happens next?

After being introduced next month, the bill will likely head to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Cushing is the incoming chairman of that committee.

Because of taxing and appropriation implications, the bill will at some point be sent to the House Ways & Means and Finance committees.

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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