N.H. Senate snuffs latest cannabis legalization effort

Marijuana. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Marijuana. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A proposal to legalize recreational cannabis in New Hampshire failed in the State Senate on Thursday, as opponents cited concerns over public safety and the possible impact of legalization on minors.

Under House Bill 629, adults 21 and older would have been permitted to possess up to three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis, as well as cannabis-infused edibles and tinctures. There was no mechanism in the bill establishing retail sale of cannabis, but adults would have been permitted to grow up to six adult plants.

While the bill had broad support in the New Hampshire House, where it passed on a 241 to 113 vote earlier this year, it ran into familiar opposition in the Senate, which has never passed a cannabis legalization bill.

“This is not a harmless substance,” Sen. Bob Giuda, a Republican from Warren, told colleagues during an hour-long debate. “Legalizing this does no good for any segment of our population.”

Giuda and other opponents cautioned that recreational cannabis legalization could lead to higher rates of use by minors, as well as more impaired drivers on the road.

Supporters of recreational marijuana noted that there is broad public support for legalization in the state, and that the bill was an important step toward racial equity, pointing to studies showing that Black people are more likely to be arrested for marijuana use, despite both white and Black people using the drug at similar rates.

“New Hampshire has become an island in New England, with our overly burdensome regulations of cannabis that are out of sync with what the scientific, health and social data says,” Sen. Becky Whitley, a Democrat from Contoocook, told colleagues. “And most importantly, with what New Hampshire voters want.”

The bill failed on a 15-9 vote, with three Democrats, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, Sen. Donna Soucy, and Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, all from Manchester, joining all but two Republicans to kill the measure. GOP Sens. Harold French of Franklin and John Reagan of Deerfield voted in favor of the bill.

It wasn’t clear if the legislation would have gained the support of Gov. Chris Sununu, who has in the past opposed marijuana legalization.

The bill was supported by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire, which called the legislation a “modest step forward.” Police chiefs, some of whom sat in the gallery during Thursday’s debate, opposed the measure.

Earlier Thursday, the Senate also voted down House Bill 1598, which would have given government-run liquor stores a monopoly to sell cannabis. That bill also cleared the House, but faced opposition from senators who described it as flawed and unworkable.

With marijuana now sold legally at stores in Massachusetts and Maine, and coming later this year to Vermont, New Hampshire adults are able to cross into neighboring states to legally purchase cannabis, but face a $100 fine if caught possessing small amounts of marijuana in New Hampshire.

This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New Hampshire Public Radio.


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