New Hampshire House Votes to Reject ‘Deeply Flawed’ Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill

New Hampshire House Votes to Reject ‘Deeply Flawed’ Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill

Despite its passage in the State Senate hours earlier, House lawmakers chose to table the measure until after Election Day.

 

As legislative sessions begin to wind down in state legislatures nationwide, a few states continue to push for cannabis legalization reform ahead of a critical election season. One of those states is New Hampshire, where lawmakers came so very close this week to making the Granite State the 25th one to enact an adult-use marijuana statute.

 

As first reported by Marijuana Moment, on Wednesday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to table (178-173) a Senate-approved bill that would have legalized recreational cannabis for adults over 21, essentially ending the prospects of passing the measure this year and most likely for the foreseeable future.

 

The move to set aside HB 1633 came hours after the Senate approved the bill's final version–negotiated earlier this month in a bicameral conference committee–by a 14-10 margin. 

 

One of the bill's loudest opponents was Rep. Jared Sullivan (D), who described the proposed legislation, which would have legalized marijuana sales under a heavily state-regulated system of franchise dispensaries, as "the most intrusive, big-government marijuana program proposed anywhere in the country."

 

"I must admit, 1633 is proving to be a pretty stubborn bill that refuses to die. I, like many in this room, seriously want to legalize cannabis sales in New Hampshire. But the fact is, despite the recent tweaks, this remains a terrible bill," he said.

 

"I must admit, 1633 is proving to be a pretty stubborn bill that refuses to die. I, like many in this room, seriously want to legalize cannabis sales in New Hampshire. But the fact is, despite the recent tweaks, this remains a terrible bill."

- NH State Rep. Jared Sullivan (D)

 

Despite its many flaws, several proponents of cannabis legalization reform were deeply disappointed by the House's decision to effectively 'punt' the issue to the next legislative session after New Hampshire voters choose a new governor in November.

 

"It's a sad day to see legalizers kill legalization. While HB 1633 was an imperfect bill, it is far easier to revise a law than to pass a bill from scratch—especially if the next governor is a prohibitionist," said Karen O'Keefe, Director of State Policy for the Marijuana Policy Project, in an email to Marijuana Moment

 

"It's a sad day to see legalizers kill legalization. While HB 1633 was an imperfect bill, it is far easier to revise a law than to pass a bill from scratch—especially if the next governor is a prohibitionist."

- Karen O'Keefe, Director of State Policy for the Marijuana Policy Project

 

 

Even the measure's original sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R), who openly criticized many of the changes made by the Senate before that chamber approved the bill, believed that, despite its many shortcomings, some form of legalization would be better than starting from scratch next year. 

 

"While my ideal model looks different, this conference report has my full support," she said. "We have the opportunity today to make history as the 25th state to legalize cannabis."

 

"While my ideal model looks different, this conference report has my full support. We have the opportunity today to make history as the 25th state to legalize cannabis."

- NH State Rep. Erica Layon (R)

 

 

Emphasizing that it would be easier to make changes to the law than pass a newly constructed bill in 2025, Layon said, "We have the chance to get the ball rolling in New Hampshire. Most of this bill won't go into effect until 2026, which gives us more time to fight about some of the challenges and some of the concerns we have about this bill." 

 

Echoing those same sentiments, Sen. Shannon Chandley (D) said, "I can certainly support it. At this point, it's not perfect. We know that whenever we pass a major piece of legislation, it is seldom perfect. We may need to revisit this, but right now, one of the things that I think is most important is that this bill does address what the people of our state want. More than 70 percent of our residents do not believe cannabis should be illegal."

 

For his part, outgoing Governor Chris Sununu (R), who personally opposes marijuana legalization but pragmatically sees reform as inevitable, said he would accept the Senate-passed version of the bill, provided there were no significant adjustments to the final bill.

 

During an interview earlier in the week, Sununu expressed his support for the legislature's approach to policy change, comparing it to other state cannabis programs. "(New Hampshire) tried to take into consideration that if we're going to do it, develop the best system not just in the region, but probably in the country, and hopefully a system, if it were to go forward, that can be a model that's built around the concepts of safety and minimizes its access to children," he said.

 

"(New Hampshire) tried to take into consideration that if we're going to do it, develop the best system not just in the region, but probably in the country, and hopefully a system, if it were to go forward, that can be a model that's built around the concepts of safety and minimizes its access to children."

- NH Governor Chris Sununu (R)

 

However, the House's actions this week rendered Sununu's position on the issue moot. That decision could lead to a protracted delay in the passage of any adult-use reform in the near future. While the leading Democratic candidate for governor, Joyce Craig, recently sent out a press release in favor of legalization, her two main Republican rivals, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and former state Sen. Chuck Morse, are staunch anti-legalization advocates.

 

For pro-cannabis stakeholders and activists, the effective killing of HB 1633 only serves to put New Hampshire further behind neighboring states, like Massachusetts and Maine, which already have well-established adult-use cannabis markets. 

 

That potential loss of tax revenue to its more progressive neighbors should motivate state lawmakers to put politics aside and focus on the bigger economic picture. Cannabis is quickly becoming an apolitical issue too big to ignore, and for those who do, the result could be political suicide.