New Hampshire lawmakers appear to be at an impasse over legislation to legalize marijuana through a multitiered system of state-controlled stores, privately operated agency shops and dual-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries. But with the governor’s newfound support for a state-controlled cannabis market, they will be returning to the issue later this year.
The House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee declined to act on a new amendment from Chairman John Hunt (R) at a meeting on Tuesday. Instead, members advanced an unrelated underlying bill that dealt with alcohol license payments unamended, with plans to continue working on a separate, standalone measure to create a state-controlled cannabis market that the previously had panel retained.
With key legislative deadlines for action this year coming up in June, the expectation is that the committee will return to that legislation—which currently calls for the Liquor Commission to operate adult-use marijuana shops—in work sessions when lawmakers reconvene in September or October in preparation for possible floor action early in 2024.
At that point, the chairman said that members could try to attach a revised amendment to the bill that would provide a hybridized sales model that resolves contradictory language that derailed the most recent attempt.
The issue that legislators and advocates identified over the past two committee hearings was that the proposed amendment seemed to propose three different routes for legal sales—state-run shops controlled by the Liquor Commission, state agency shops operated by privately licensed individuals and dual licensing for the state’s existing medical cannabis dispensaries. Yet the amendment also included language explicitly stating that all adult-use sales would be operated by the government.
Rather than resolve that problematic language, the committee decided against amending the unrelated alcohol payments bill on Tuesday—with members saying they would revisit the retained state-run legalization bill in a few months.
Some members of the panel talked about potentially moving to place a revised cannabis amendment to the liquor payments legislation or other low-stakes bills on the House floor within the next few days, and the chairman said they were welcome to do so—but cautioned that it would be unlikely to pass in the Senate at this stage.
Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire, told Marijuana Moment that industry stakeholders “suggested clarifications” to address the contradictory language and make it clear that what they working to establish is a “three-legged stool” of state-run stores, privately run agency stores and current medical cannabis dispensaries.
“If it’s a three-legged stool, I said that could be a workable compromise. But it seems like it’s trying to be both a three-legged stool and a one-legged stool in the same amendment,” he said. “And I still don’t know whether it’s a three-legged stool or a one-legged stool.”
(Disclosure: Simon supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)
There’s a sense of urgency to act on the reform proposal given that Gov. Chris Sununu (R) recently backed legalizing through a state-run model. But there’s also skepticism about the regulatory concept, with certain lawmakers preferring to take a more conventional approach by creating a private commercial market, as would have been achieved through a separate bill from bipartisan leadership that the House approved but the Senate defeated earlier this month.
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An earlier House-passed bill to legalize through the state model was unanimously defeated in the Senate last year. But since the Senate approved separate legislation this month to create a study commission to examine potential legalization models, it seems there will be more robust discussion about ending prohibition in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, the House separately defeated a different marijuana legalization amendment that was being proposed as part of a Medicaid expansion bill this month.
Also, the Senate moved to table another piece of legislation this month that would have allowed patients and designated caregivers to cultivate up to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings for personal therapeutic use.
After the Senate rejected reform bills in 2022, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation—but that was also struck down in the opposite chamber.
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