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New Hampshire House of Representatives rejects Senate plan to legalize marijuana

New Hampshire lawmakers have rejected Senate amendments to a bill that would legalize marijuana in the state. The move means House and Senate negotiators now have a week to find something state lawmakers have eluded for years: an agreement on cannabis legalization.

It also reduces the likelihood that New Hampshire will soon join 24 other states – including the rest of New England – in legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use.

The House of Representatives has repeatedly voted to legalize cannabis over the past decade, regardless of which party held the majority.

Until last week, the Republican-led Senate had never supported a legalization bill.

The House's vote on Thursday to reject the Senate plan – while authorizing a mediation committee for the bill – came after several staunch legalization advocates in the House called the Senate proposal too flawed to support. That plan would have delayed legalization until 2026 and created a 15-store franchise system for selling marijuana.

“This is not the solution for New Hampshire,” said Republican Rep. Kevin Verville of Deerfield. “This is not what we are looking for.”

However, Governor Chris Sununu has announced that he will sign the Senate plan. Sununu, meanwhile, had announced that he would oppose the version of the bill that the House of Representatives passed this session.

The House plan calls for immediate legalization of marijuana, allowing adults to possess up to 4 ounces and allowing 15 state-licensed but privately owned stores to sell it.

The state's House of Representatives' complicated politics surrounding cannabis – including the fact that Republican leaders in the Senate oppose legalization – was the subject of floor debate Thursday.

“That's the main reason you have to vote today. You have to vote yes,” said Republican Rep. John Hunt of Ringe. “We have to get marijuana off the block. We have to get it going.”

But too few were convinced.

“Yes, our constituents want legalization, and so do I,” said Democrat Heath Howard of Strafford. “But as legislators, we have a duty to insist on better policies.”

House and Senate negotiators have until June 6 to reach an agreement on cannabis legalization. Any agreement on the policy would need to be voted on by the full House and Senate before June 13.

Anna Harden

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