House Bill 1598 would legalize the possession and use of cannabis for all residents 21 and older. (Getty Images)
The Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended killing a House bill to legalize cannabis and allow the state to sell it through the Liquor Commission in a unanimous vote Wednesday that bodes poorly for its advancement on the Senate floor.
Voting 5-0, the committee recommended House Bill 1598 be deemed “inexpedient to legislate,” a recommendation that will appear before the full Senate for a vote in the coming weeks.
The bill would legalize the possession and use of cannabis for all residents 21 and older. And it would allow the New Hampshire Liquor Commission “to regulate and administer the cultivation, manufacture, testing, and retail sale of cannabis statewide” and allow towns and cities to limit or prohibit the number of cannabis establishments within their borders.
Among recent efforts to legalize cannabis in the state, the bill used a new approach, making the Liquor Commission the sole vendor. Advocates have said the bill legalizes the personal use of cannabis while also providing a revenue source to the state and allowing the state to prevent overcommercialization by private actors.
But Wednesday’s committee vote exposed concerns over the bill that have come from cannabis legalization advocates themselves.
Sen. Erin Hennessey, a Littleton Republican, pointed to arguments made against the bill by those advocates over the state’s central retail role, which industry stakeholders say would create a purchasing monopoly and put cultivators at a disadvantage. And Hennessey raised other concerns, including potential competition with existing therapeutic cannabis organizations, how the revenue generated would be used, and the lack of legalization for edibles.
“I would love to be able to fix this bill, but there’s just too many questions that we’ve received that do not make it fixable for those who would like to see marijuana legalized in the state,” she said.
Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat, agreed. “I’m overall concerned about the Liquor Commission’s ability to take on another responsibility,” she said, and pointed to a lack of justice and equity provisions.
The committee’s discussion also shed light on what has been a longstanding, bipartisan skepticism in the state Senate about marijuana legalization over the past decade, even as the House has continued to pass the bills on a bipartisan basis.
“I’m opposed to marijuana,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat and a former teacher. “I’ve dealt with it with students; I’ve dealt with it with constituents. It’s a problem. I think that the situation is quite clear: The availability of marijuana on let’s call it the black market is pervasive. It’s everywhere. And we must deal with the ramifications of it.”
Speaking in support of the bill, Devon Chaffee, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, admitted it wasn’t the organization’s preferred approach.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is the perfect bill,” Chaffee said. “… But what I will tell you is that we are done waiting for the perfect bill on this issue.”
The House passed a more basic marijuana legalization bill earlier this year. House Bill 629, which would legalize the use and possession of marijuana and allow home cultivation of cannabis plants, is up for a vote in the full Senate Thursday. That bill was recommended “ought to pass” by the Senate Judiciary Committee, 3-2.
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