New Hampshire House Speaker Sherm Packard presides over the 169-156 vote in favor to legalize adult use cannabis on Thursday, Mar. 31, 2022. Credit: NH House of Representatives Committee Stream

New Hampshire’s House of Representatives narrowly passed an adult use cannabis legalization bill that would create a state-run monopoly on adult use retail stores, HB 1598,  following a 169-156 floor vote on Thursday evening, Mar. 31.

“I am a fan of listening to the 80% and growing of our constituents to legalize cannabis,” said Rep. Timothy Egan from the House floor. “I say, if not now, then when. We need to send a message to the body on the other side of the wall that they are not being heard.”

That bill, which is the third since 2019 to pass the House, would still need to pass the state Senate, which was where previous efforts to legalize have died.

Egan, who has publicly expressed reservations about the bill, said Thursday that he thought it was imperfect but necessary.

“All states that have legalized cannabis have a cannabis control commission that allows them to have oversight,” he said. “One of my concerns with this bill is that it does not have that. We do need to have a clear oversight of regulation separate from the folks that sell the product.”

On the other hand, he said the amount of public support for legalization was overwhelming. A recent survey from the University of New Hampshire found that 74% of the state’s residents supported the legalization of adult cannabis.  

“We look silly to those in Massachusetts, Maine, and now Connecticut and Vermont,” said Egan.

Rep. Casey Conley also argued in support of the bill, despite its imperfections. 

“I know this bill would raise millions in tax relief,” said Rep. Casey Conley, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Kicking the can down the road another year does a disservice to the residents who just want us to get this done.”  

The House also passed an amendment to the legalization bill, 212-89, that mandates that the state Department of Health would produce warning posters and pamphlets about the potential harms of THC for children and infants. The state’s medical cannabis “Alternative Therapeutic Centers” already adhere to this rule.

“The poster and the information material already exists,” said Marsh, while arguing for the amendment on the House floor.

Another point of contention over the bill was that it inadvertently kept THC-infused edibles illegal. This was because an amendment replaced decriminalization of those products without specifying that possession of edibles would still be permitted.

“It puts edible cannabis in a legal limbo. This amendment fixes it,” said Conley moments before his amendment was approved by voice vote.

An amendment that would have allowed for the issuance of private cannabis retail licenses failed to pass, 77-257.

The amendment faced opposition from Republican Daryl Abbas, who sponsored the original legalization bill, over the taxes that would be created by the amendment. He argued that it would increase the meals tax rate, while setting a stage to subvert New Hampshire’s lack of a state sales tax.“This would increase the meals tax, unrelated to cannabis, from 8.5% to 9%. Y ou are essentially converting that meals tax into a sales tax,” he said.

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...