Changes in New Hampshire’s medical market are likely coming, regardless of state action or inaction.
The state has been slow to make changes to the six-year-old medical market. Meanwhile the state’s three medical cannabis nonprofits are left waiting for the opportunity for new customers as Vermont’s adult use market comes online and prices in Maine’s and Massachusetts’ markets continue to drop making an out of state drive more worth it for Granite Staters.
As of last summer’s legalization bill in Rhode Island, New Hampshire is officially the only state in New England without legal adult use. The state has a relatively small medical market with about 12,237 registered patients among a total state population of 1.4 million as of the 2020 Census.
Comparatively, Maine has 1.3 million residents with 105,143 registered patients as of Dec. 2021, while Massachusetts has a population of about 6.9 million residents with 97,000 registered medical patients, as of September, 2022.
New Hampshire’s legislature legalized medical cannabis in the state in 2013, with the medical market finally coming online in 2016. Since then, the state has only allowed three vertically-integrated nonprofits to operate Alternative Treatment Centers, the term the state uses for dispensaries.
Prime ATC and Sanctuary ATC each have two outlets, while Temescal Wellness operates three, leaving New Hampshire patients with just seven options across the state.
Over a year ago, Governor Chris Sununu signed HB 605 into law, which added opioid use disorder to the list of applicable medical conditions for eligibility in the cannabis program. The bill also allows ATCs to sell to patients with out of state cards – but the catch was that the state’s Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for writing the rules that dictate how the ATCs would verify out of state ID cards.
DHHS holds monthly meetings on its cannabis program through the department’s Therapeutic Cannabis Medical Oversight Board, but it is only authorized to “clinical, quality, and public health related matters.”
Aside from allowing out of state patients, the state has also contributed to negative aspects of the market’s reputation. For example, state regulation set the testing limit for lead at 8,712 parts per billion. This standard is vastly higher than neighboring states and despite the fact that lead contamination at all is extremely rare in New Hampshire, that standard is yet another metric where the state loses out against states with legal adult use weed.
“No amount of lead has ever been detected in Prime ATC’s cannabis,” said Matt Simon, spokesperson for the ATC. “We are required to have every batch of flower tested, and lead has never appeared in any of the test results.”
Despite the high threshold for lead, the state’s sole testing lab, Nelson Analytical, has reported that lead has never been detected in New Hampshire medical cannabis.
“We have formally requested that the New Hampshire Therapeutic Cannabis Program revise its allowable limit for lead to 0.5ppm or lower,” said Simon.
At the same time, activists in the state are closely watching November’s election and how it will impact the state Senate, which proved to be the key roadblock for adult use legalization earlier this year in the Granite State.
Earlier this year two attempts to legalize adult use cannabis were stopped by the state’s GOP-led senate. The Senate includes 24 seats, of which eight are open elections in 2022.
A bill that would have created a state-run dispensary system with independent cultivators and processors failed 9-15 in the senate on April 28, 2022. The vote was largely partisan in favor of conservatives, with two Democrats joining those voting against.
The state Senate has 24 seats. At least two of the Republicans running for an open seat have said they would support legalization, including Daryl Abbas who championed the state monopoly model of legalization in the State House earlier this year. This will theoretically tighten the 9-15 divide.
Also, enough of the other races in the Senate are close that 2023 could very possibly bring a New Hampshire Senate more receptive to legalization. All this means that a political shift on cannabis in the Granite State could come as soon as the Nov. 8 election.