New Hampshire Lawmakers Approve Bill to Legalize Marijuana, But Will Governor Sign?

new hampshire marijuana legalization

The New Hampshire House of Representatives recently voted to legalize recreational marijuana, but Gov. Chris Sununu has indicated he could veto the bill.

Could New Hampshire become the latest U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana? State lawmakers took a step toward legalizing adult use marijuana last week after the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 207-139 to approve a limited legalization bill, House Bill 656.

The bill proposes the legalization of personal cultivation of up to six marijuana plants, three of which could be mature. It would also legalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of usable marijuana. Marijuana in excess of that amount would be legal provided that it’s stored with the plants that produced it. The bill would not allow retail sales.

The approval from lawmakers came just days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded federal guidelines protecting state cannabis laws. If signed into law, New Hampshire will join eight other U.S. states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Vermont lawmakers have also approved an adult use marijuana bill that is likely to be signed into law later this week.

Originally, the bill would have allowed regulated and taxed marijuana sales. While that bill was defeated in committee last November, cannabis-supporting lawmakers successfully moved a floor amendment last week that scaled the proposal back to only allow personal cultivation.

A House committee will continue to review the bill, which would need to pass the state Senate before being sent to Gov. Chris Sununu for consideration. There is currently a study commission looking at all aspects of legalizing marijuana, and its report is due in November.

Will New Hampshire Gov. Sununu Sign the Bill?

Despite a May 2017 poll indicating that marijuana legalization is supported by 68 percent of New Hampshire voters, Gov. Sununu is more than likely going to veto the recreational marijuana bill if it reaches his desk. He’s argued that legalizing cannabis could contribute to the nation’s drug epidemic, although research indicates otherwise.

“Are you kidding?” Gov. Sununu said when asked if he would consider signing the bill. “We’re in the middle of one of the biggest drug crisis the state has ever seen. To go to a full recreational marijuana when other states that are seeing all the problems it has in other states and seeing the issues it’s bearing, it’s definitely not something that I’m supportive of right now.”

If New Hampshire doesn’t legalize recreational marijuana, it could risk losing tourism dollars, as surrounding states have ended prohibition. Adult use marijuana became legal for adults in Maine last year, and the first marijuana retail shops in Massachusetts are scheduled to open this year. Vermont is close to giving final approval this week for marijuana legislation.

“It looks bad for the reputation of the Live Free or Die to be an island of prohibition surrounded by a sea of freedom,” said Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston.

“The idea that New Hampshire is going to be this sole place where it’s not an option available I think will have a detrimental impact on the state,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton. “The time is now. We need to move forward.”

Former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, who intends to challenge Sununu for governor this year, called Sununu’s opposition to the bill “deeply disturbing.”

“When I am Governor in 2019, I will advocate for the legalization, regulation and taxation of cannabis for adult recreational use,” Marchand said in a statement. “Doing so will lower costs for incarceration, courts, and law enforcement.”

Marijuana Law in New Hampshire

While adult use marijuana remains prohibited in New Hampshire, Gov. Sununu last year did sign into law a bill that decriminalized simple possession of up to three quarters of an ounce of marijuana.

The medical use of marijuana has been legal in New Hampshire since 2013. According to recent data made available by the state’s Department of Health, New Hampshire’s medical marijuana program has more than doubled in size since 2016. The recent surge is likely related to Gov. Sununu signing into law a pair of bills last year that expanded the state’s program to include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and chronic pain as qualifying conditions.

Learn More About Marijuana Law in the U.S.

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