A bill to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire is going back to the House floor after a second committee passed the legislation with amendments on Monday.
The proposal, which is being sponsored by Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R) and Minority Leader Matthew Wilhelm (D), cleared the House Ways & Means Committee in a 16-4 vote.
The full chamber already approved the legislation last month, but it needed to be sent back to the finance-focused committee because of its fiscal provisions. It must pass the House again before potentially being sent to the Senate for consideration.
Previously, members of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee had spent weeks working the proposal over a series of meetings, going back and forth about a variety of provisions and making amendments to the original measure.
Now, the Ways & Means Committee has approved a number of additional changes during Monday’s executive session as part of an all-encompassing amendment. That was adopted in a 16-4 vote.
While the bill previously set a 15 percent tax on marijuana flower at the wholesale level, the panel changed that to a 12.5 percent tax on the price of products in their final form at the wholesale level.
The committee also made changes to how cannabis revenue would be allocated.
After the costs of legalization implementation are covered, $100,000 would fund data collection and reporting on health impacts of cannabis prohibition and cannabis regulation. Of remaining funds after that, 50 percent would be disbursed to cities and towns to offset the education tax, 30 percent would be credited to the New Hampshire retirement system to offset its unfunded accrued liability, 10 percent or $25 million (whichever is less) would fund substance use programs, 5 percent would be used to hire and train drug recognition experts and 5 percent would support children’s behavioral health services.
Members additionally adopted a change to remove large prescribed fees for medical businesses that want to enter the recreational market, instead leaving it up to regulators to determine those fees.
A prior change made to the legislation from its introduced form, adopted by the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee prior to its first stop on the floor, would put the state’s existing Liquor Commission in charge of regulating the marijuana market, rather than create a new independent commission to do so, as was proposed in the original version of HB 639. The body would also be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Commission.
Advocates are disappointed that provisions allowing home grow and to annul prior cannabis convictions have been removed from the bill as filed, but it was viewed as a necessary compromise for the legislation to have a chance of being enacted this session.
Here’s what HB 639 as amended would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older would be able to purchase, possess and gift up to four ounces of cannabis.
The newly renamed Liquor and Cannabis Commission would be responsible for regulating the marijuana market and issuing business licenses.
There would not be any statewide cap on the number of marijuana businesses that could be licensed.
Within 18 months of enactment, the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and commission would need to develop regulations allowing existing medical cannabis dispensaries to apply for dual licenses to start serving adult consumers.
Cannabis would be taxed in the amount of 12.5 percent of of products’ value in their final form at the wholesale level.
After the costs of legalization implementation are covered, $100,000 of revenue would fund data collection and reporting on health impacts of cannabis prohibition and cannabis regulation. Of remaining funds after that, 50 percent would be disbursed to cities and towns to offset the education tax, 30 percent would be credited to the New Hampshire retirement system to offset its unfunded accrued liability, 10 percent or $25 million (whichever is less) would fund substance use programs, 5 percent would be used to hire and train drug recognition experts and 5 percent would support children’s behavioral health services.
Localities could limit or ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area.
There would be employment protections for state or local government workers who use marijuana off the job. Professional and occupational licenses couldn’t be denied or withdrawn because a person uses cannabis.
Marijuana companies could deduct business expenses from their taxes at the state level.
There are no provisions to allow home cultivation or annul prior cannabis convictions.
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Last week, the New Hampshire House approved a bill to allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants for personal use.
The floor vote on home grow came about a week after the House approved a second cannabis legalization bill for the session, one that contains virtually no regulations or limitations on cannabis.
While there’s optimism about the prospects of legalization finally moving in the Granite State this year, advocates still have work cut out for them.
Republicans held on to the both the House and Senate after last year’s election, and the latter chamber is where marijuana reform has faced its toughest obstacles in past sessions even as the House has repeatedly approved legalization bills.
The Senate rejected two House-passed reform bills last year, including one that would have created a non-commercial cannabis program and another providing for commerce under a state-run model.
In the Senate, there were some shifts that favor reform, however. For example, a Democratic senator who opposed legalization efforts was replaced by a Republican who voted in favor of ending prohibition during his time as a House member.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who was reelected last year, remains opposed to legalization—but his more recent comments on the issue seem to show a softening of his position. He said during a debate last year that reform “could be inevitable,” but he added that states need to “be patient about how you do it.”
After the Senate rejected two reform bills last year, 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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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.