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New Hampshire Senate Moves Towards Legalization

New Hampshire's marijuana legalization movement just got a high profile endorsement in the state's senate. A senate bill (which has a similar counterpart in the house of reps) should be moving to the judiciary committee early next year.
Photo Jim Bowen


New Hampshire Senate Moves Towards Legalization

New Hampshire’s marijuana legalization movement just got a high profile endorsement in the state’s senate. A senate bill (which has a similar counterpart in the house of reps) should be moving to the judiciary committee early next year.

New England has been an epicenter of cannabis progress since 2004, the year Vermont enacted medical legislation. But for one of New England’s great beacons of democracy, the efforts have always hit a wall.

New Hampshire, home of the nation’s earliest presidential primary and the American Northeast’s most prolific graveyard of solid efforts to decriminalize cannabis: seven different bills have made it through the state’s House of Representatives — the largest in the country with 400 members — only to die a death by a thousand cuts or perish under the veto pen of some anti-pot governor. 

But as in many places across the US, the winds of change howled on election night. Democrat Governor Maggie Hassan punched her ticket to the District of Columbia as Senator-elect, and pro-decriminalization Republican Chris Sununu followed in his father John H. Sunnunu’s footsteps and became the current governor-elect.

Sunnunu, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, and his brother, former senator John E. Sunnunu, hail from the old guard of NH politics. But governor-elect Sunnunu’s stance on cannabis is the new breath of fresh air longtime NH activists needed to kick their efforts back into gear. With an open minded governor taking office in January, this is the most powerful ally the state’s decriminalization movement has ever had in the state senate.

N.H. Senate Minority Leader, Jeff Woodburn, has set forward the best chance yet for major progress in the Granite State in years. With his decision weighed by what he believes is the forthcoming reality of full legalization, he decided it’s time to get the ball rolling.

The yet to be finalized senate bill will feature two main components.

The first would be making marijuana legal for all intents and purposes by removing criminal penalties for possession, personal cultivation, and sale. This would happen at a set date in the future. This makes sense in a state so historically hard on legalization efforts; trying to rush it would just rush the bill to the shredder. 

The second part of the bill would set up a study committee. This committee would determine the nuts and bolts processes around how the adult use market would come into play. The date being tossed around by Woodburn is 2019 or 2020. Despite the extended timelines it would be a comprehensive legalization bill

Woodburn vividly spoke of his scheduling plan to the Concord Monitor.

 “You get a goal,” he said. “It’s like D-Day; we’re going to invade on this date.”

Leading the Granite State effort for the Marijuana Policy Project is longtime activist Matt Simon, who now serves as New England Political Director at MPP. He’s spent the better part of the last ten years making inroads for cannabis in the NH legislature. He was also a member of the drafting committee for Massachusetts successful adult use initiative this past November.

Simon has already spoken with the incoming Governor Sununu, and will be happy to deal with someone who he said has “already come out in favor of removing the criminal penalties around cannabis possession.”

According to Simon, the bill should get a number in early January. From there it will be on its way to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing not long after, where supporters will get the chance to have their voices heard. This is the same committee that saw many a cannabis effort fade in the past, but none this well-backed.

On the House of Representatives side the, the effort will be led by Glen Aldrich. His bill will be different a bit different.

“It’s really starting the conversation in the two separate chambers, there won’t be any overlap,” Simon said. “The big picture is the same: adults should not be punished for using marijuana, and they should be able to grow it, and they should be able to go to a store and buy it. Both of these bills would do that.”

Aldrich is leaving less up to committee than the senate bill, and according to Simon in true New Hampshire Spirit, “Glenn is very interested in keeping the tax low.”

TELL US, are you optimistic about this bill’s chances in committee?

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