A new adult-use cannabis legalization bill is moving through the New Hampshire legislature, but legalization advocates are worried about a lack of homegrown options and a business plan that features state-run dispensaries.
“The bill, while a step in the right direction, I worry is going to be a step in a pothole and we’re going to twist our ankle,” said State Rep. Timothy Egan (D), the current chair of the Democrats’ cannabis caucus. “I voted for the bill. I’m in favor of any effort for legalization, but I have reservations about this bill, because it goes from the government telling you ‘you can’t have it,’ to ‘I’m the only one you can buy it from.'”
The bill, HB 1598, recently made it out of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, passed a House floor vote and has been sent to the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee to iron out financial aspects of the bill. The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Daryl Abbas, who is joined by a bipartisan assortment of fellow legislators.
Abbas’ bill would legalize possession for those 21 and up. The Liquor Commission would be authorized to oversee the new state-run market. All cannabis products will be tested and labeled, while municipalities will be able to opt out of hosting legal cannabis facilities.
The bill would establish a cannabis control fund, which would distribute revenue from state-run shops to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, with the intent of supporting education tax relief, public safety agency training and children’s behavioral health services. The bill would also enable an appropriation to the Department of Health and Human Services to sponsor the creation of a media campaign addressing “risks of cannabis use.”
Finally, the bill would authorize the state’s Business Finance Authority to establish a state-chartered bank dedicated to cannabis businesses.
Daryl Eames, founder of the New Hampshire Cannabis Association, said that he was optimistic that the bill would clear the House.
“Our House has always been very supportive of legalization bills so confidence is high,” said Daryl Eames of the New Hampshire Cannabis Association. “It has historically been the Senate that has been less supportive. However, where this bill lives up to New Hampshire’s low-or-no-tax philosophy and provides a property tax reduction for the state’s homeowners we feel it has a better chance than past bills.”
On the other hand, Eames was concerned by the fact that the bill would continue a prohibition of home cultivation.
“We view cannabis to be very much like brewing beer, and see no reason why small numbers of plants shouldn’t be able to be cultivated in the privacy of your own home, just like you can home brew beer in limited quantities,” said Eames. “Cultivation isn’t as easy as some believe, and is a bit of an art form and passion for enthusiasts.”
Matt Simon, spokesperson for Prime Alternative Treatment Center as well as the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, also worried that relegating cannabis dispensaries to those run by state employees would create a federal legal dispute undermining the ability for an adult-use market to exist.
“There’s a difference between a state issuing licenses to private businesses that then violate federal law and having state employees actually sell cannabis,” he said. “I’m not saying that federal agents are going to start hauling cannabis retail store workers to jail. But the fear is that this could be litigated and wind up in court and not be implementable as is.”
Regardless of the nuances of the House’s approach, the bill will also have to get past New Hampshire’s 24-member Senate, which has consistently blocked previous legalization efforts.
“I still very strongly doubt there are thirteen votes in the Senate to pass this,” said Simon. “There are no senators that have come out and said they’re in favor of this particular model. Everybody’s kept their mouths shut and it’s just waiting and watching to see what happens in the House so far.”
Simon criticized the way that legalization has been presented as a financial boon for the state without any considerations for impacts beyond state revenue.
“If you’re doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. This should not be all about the revenue,” said Simon. “Every word out of the sponsor’s mouth has been, ‘this is how we can maximize revenue, this is how we can get as much money as possible for the state.’ No talk of small business, no talk of craft cannabis, no talk of social Equity.”
Egan was also mindful that however the bill looks when it leaves the House, it is going to have to appeal to the Senate’s conservative leanings.
“Are we creating jobs or are we living a liberty-oriented mindset? That’s how we’re going to get this passed,” he said.