The legislative push to legalize adult-use cannabis in New Hampshire was delayed last week, perhaps until 2023, by the state house’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
House Bill 237, which would have established a legal cannabis retail market in the Granite State, was sent to “interim study” by a 12-8 vote in a committee hearing on October 20. The committee also voted 11-9 to send House Bill 629 to interim study, which would have allowed legalized home growing.
The committee’s Republican chair Daryl Abbas opposed the two bills, but said his stance was not about prohibition, but was instead to ensure that whichever cannabis legalization bill makes it out of the House has a chance to pass the Senate, let alone get signed by the governor.
Two years ago, the house and senate passed a legalization bill, but were unable to override Governor Chris Sununu’s veto.
“It’s so hard to pass, people are willing to pass virtually whatever they can,” said Abbas. “They just want to legalize it and they aren’t really concerned with the details.”
One of Abbas’ concerns with the current legislation is the 1 oz. cap on all retail transactions. He said that he understood why legislators might want a limit, but Abbas argued that it would be harmful to business.
“The New Hampshire economy thrives on people buying in bulk, because its a sales friendly environment,” he said.
Abbas also took issue with the proposed 9% sales tax. He called it “double-dipping” considering that businesses operating in New Hampshire are already expected to pay a 7.7% business profits tax, on gross profit, along with a 0.5% business enterprise tax.
“We pride ourselves on what we call the ‘New Hampshire advantage.’ Part of that is not promoting a sales tax,” he said. “Putting a sales tax on cannabis is, to me, government greed.”
By sidelining the two cannabis bills and potentially starting the process over with a new bill in January, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee has delayed adult-use legalization in the state, but Abbas argued that this would not be a significant delay.
“Is it a delay of the process? Yeah, but it’s the middle of October,” said Abbas. “I don’t think three months is the problem.”
Daryl Eames of the New Hampshire Cannabis Association was optimistic that the legislature will pick legalization back up in January.
“I think there’s going to be a different bill that’s submitted. I think they gave them a ‘polite death.’” he said. “I don’t understand how all the sausage is made, but from what I understand that was expected.”
Matt Simon, who led the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy during the push for legalized medical marijuana in the state, was concerned that the delay could run into the 2023 session.
“I would say there’s some skepticism in the advocacy world,” he said.
Simon acknowledged that it would be possible for Abbas to present a new bill in January, vet it before the public and bring it to the floor for a vote by March, but he had some concern about Abbas’ intentions based on his opposition to legalization in previous legislative sessions.
“I think there’s a good chance the House will pass a legalization bill of some kind next spring,” said Simon, noting that the Senate would still be a problem and that there was no guarantee that the legislature would put adult-use cannabis on the ballot. “The reality is that the odds are against all of these vehicles.”
Pessimism aside, Simon said he had not given up hope for legalization in the state.
“These things all have a chance. There’s so much popular opinion on our side, the dam might break,” he said. “I just don’t know which vehicle will be the one that advances.”