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New Hampshire marijuana legislation loss is still our gain – Lowell Sun

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – FEBRUARY 16: The New Hampshire State House, the State Capitol of New Hampshire, is seen on February 16, 2023 in Concord, New Hampshire. Nikki Haley will continue her 2024 presidential campaign with an appearance in the state today. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The legalization of marijuana for recreational use in New Hampshire remains just a pipe dream.

A bill to normalize personal marijuana use in New Hampshire failed in the House of Representatives on Thursday after narrowly reaching the finish line in the only New England state where marijuana is illegal.

The House of Representatives has passed several legalization bills over the years, but they were blocked in the Senate. This year, both chambers passed bills and the Senate approved a compromise worked out by negotiators from both chambers.

However, the full House of Representatives rejected this and instead voted 178 to 173 to postpone the proposal and reject it at the end of the session.

A subsequent vote to withdraw the bill also failed.

House Bill 1633 would have largely legalized cannabis and allowed anyone over the age of 21 to possess and consume it.

But the latest version of the bill, which would have initially allowed only 15 outlets overseen by the state liquor commission, has also drawn criticism from some legalization advocates who want a less regulated model, making possible passage more difficult.

Democratic Rep. Jared Sullivan of Bethlehem said the compromise did little to change what he called an “ugly” Senate bill, describing it as “the most intrusive marijuana program ever proposed by any administration in the entire country. It ignores free-market principles, will stifle innovation in a nascent industry and lock future generations of Granite Staters into an inferior model indefinitely.”

Sullivan also rejected the notion that the bill could have been adjusted next year to better reflect the House's stance.

“Does anyone here really believe that we can get a newly empowered government bureaucracy back under control after it has spent millions of dollars?” he asked. “Does anyone seriously believe that it will be easy to take power away from an unelected agency once it has it in its hands?”

Lawmakers have been working to legalize marijuana use since at least 2018. Previous attempts passed the 400-member House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. This year, for the first time, a majority of senators were willing to approve the bill.

The version passed by the House of Representatives proposed a 10% tax, while the final version retained the 15% tax rate favored by the Senate and also retained the state franchise model desired by the Senate, which the House of Representatives strongly opposed.

Even with a 15% tax, it would still have had a competitive advantage over Massachusetts, where taxes can be as high as 20%.

Thanks to the conditional support of outgoing Governor Chris Sununu, there was hope that a modest marijuana proposal would finally gain approval from the legislature.

This time, supporters believed they had reached the necessary critical mass due to the governor's tacit support.

The governor had previously stated that he could support legalization, but only if sales were limited and controlled by the state and if safety took priority over profit.

On February 22, the House of Representatives voted 263 to 116 to approve the bill.

Supporters had urged their colleagues to pass the bill, saying that New Hampshire becoming the 25th state to legalize marijuana could be a turning point for the federal government, which still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug and is regulated by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Supporters also pointed to polls showing that more than 70 percent of the state's residents believe it should be legal.

“This bill responds to the wishes of the people of our state,” said Senator Shannon Chandley, a Democrat from Amherst. “And in addition to reflecting the will of the majority, it allows us to do what is really needed, which is to regulate.”

Even if this latest move to legalize marijuana were to pass the New Hampshire State Legislature, it would face an uncertain future.

Although the bill included state oversight supported by the governor, there was no guarantee that he would sign the bill in its current form.

Critics also argued that these few retail stores would not stop consumers from driving to retail stores in other states, particularly in communities near the Massachusetts border.

For example, we previously noted that the town of Dracut, just across the Massachusetts border from Pelham, has four recreational marijuana dispensaries alone.

Massachusetts has long been accustomed to losing out on the sin tax, while New Hampshire has no sales tax advantage, so it's encouraging to see our northern neighbor unable to benefit from the marijuana trade revenues that now flow to every other New England state.

In Massachusetts, where voters passed a bill allowing recreational marijuana use in 2016, there are now more than 350 marijuana retailers operating, generating more than $5.5 billion in sales since the first stores opened in 2018.

With the upcoming change of governor in New Hampshire, it may be even more difficult to draft a bill that both the state legislature and the state's premier can support.

In the meantime, the Granite State will continue to watch as its neighbors take away its potential revenue from marijuana cultivation.

Anna Harden

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