Concord Monitor – Chances of marijuana legalization in NH appear to be declining

The differences between the versions of the marijuana legalization bill in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate are so serious that the bill may be doomed to failure, lawmakers said Tuesday.

Peterborough State Democratic Representative Jonah Wheeler does not believe New Hampshire will quickly join the rest of New England in allowing adults to use the drug recreationally.

“Cannabis legalization is most likely not going to happen this year. I think people are going to have to accept that,” said Wheeler, one of the co-signers of Bill 1633.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives will consider approving the Senate version of the bill and sending it to Republican Governor Chris Sununu for a vote on whether to sign it and enact it into law.

They could also object and reject the proposal, or reject it and refer it to a conciliation committee composed of MPs from each chamber that would try to reach a compromise.

Wheeler said the House would likely support the creation of a mediation committee, but he did not believe the panel would be able to resolve the differences between the House and Senate.

“The House vote on a mediation committee is more of a formality than anything else given the situation in the Senate,” he said.

The Senate passed its bill on May 23 by a vote of 14 to 10, but added language that the House had previously rejected. Several senators vehemently opposed legalization, arguing that it would endanger public health and safety.

Rep. Anita Burroughs (D-Glen) is another co-sponsor of HB 1633, which passed the House on April 11 by a vote of 239 to 136. Supporters say the drug is already widely used in the state and that legalization would allow the state to better regulate it and generate revenue from sales.

“I did a fairly loose poll not long ago and found that at least 50 of my Democratic colleagues will vote against the vote, and I believe there are more Republicans who will vote against the vote,” Burroughs said. “If I were to bet, I would say the majority will vote against the vote.”

“I will support a conciliation committee because if there is a way to save the matter, I am all for it, but frankly I am not optimistic.”

Wheeler said the Senate included too many provisions in the bill.

“The legislation is not consistent with the opinions of Granite Staters. That is my main objection to the Senate version,” he said. “This is a very restrictive model that will ultimately be difficult to change.”

Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), who opposes legalization, would appoint the mediation committee members. House Speaker Sherm Packard (R-Londonderry) would appoint the House members.

The committee would have to unanimously support a compromise bill before it could be voted on again in all chambers and then possibly sent to Sununu.

The differences include:

* The version of the bill introduced by the House of Representatives would allow possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana, double the limit set by the Senate.

* The House version would take effect upon passage, while the Senate has set January 1, 2026 as the effective date.

* A repeated violation of smoking or vaping marijuana in public would be a violation punishable by a $500 fine under the House version, while the Senate would make it a misdemeanor punishable by jail time.

* The Senate version sets a hard cap of 15 marijuana retail outlets, while the House would allow that number to increase depending on demand.

Devon Chaffee, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Hampshire, said she would like to see legalization passed this year, even if the legislation is “not perfect.”

“It remains critical that we pass laws to ensure that people are no longer penalized or imprisoned for activities that 74 percent of Granite State residents believe should be legal,” she said.

“With the passage of HB 1633, we are committing the state to ending the approximately 1,000 arrests for marijuana possession each year, most of which disproportionately affect the citizens of the Black Granite State, and ending people's entanglement in the criminal justice system that brings direct, life-destroying collateral damage.”

Supporters of the Senate version of the bill say the bill's language is tailored to Sununu's approval, who has said he would support legalization only if the state maintained strict control over sales and marketing.

Anna Harden

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