Hemmed in by Legalizing Neighbors, New Hampshire Groups Make Legalization Push

Squeezed between a country and states that have legalized cannabis or are moving in that direction, a coalition of New Hampshire pro-legalization groups said at a press conference Tuesday that the state should seek to develop its own legal adult-use cannabis market or be left to police cannabis brought across its borders.

The New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy and the Marijuana Policy Project hosted the statehouse press conference to push for the passage of H.B. 481, which would legalize adult-use cannabis. After a legalization bill failed to pass last year, members of the coalition and lawmakers said that the state’s status quo of civil fines for cannabis possession without a regulated market had failed as state-legal cannabis will soon be available nearby.

Most notably, legal cannabis is expected to be available within the next two years in New York, on the state’s western border. Cannabis has already been legalized in adjacent Canada and Massachusetts.

“It’s a reality we can’t ignore,” legalization sponsor Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing, a Democrat, said at the press conference. A legislative committee also held its first hearing this year on the subject on Tuesday.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has been opposed to legalization. In December, the governor said at an event that despite the legalization trend among New Hampshire’s neighbors and around the country, the state should stand its ground against legalization, according to the Concord Monitor. The report said the governor is working closely with Kevin Sabet and the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana and Sununu said he would “absolutely” veto legislation “regardless of what the language looks like.”

Sabet said in an email to Cannabis Wire that his group is active in the northeast. “We are working with prevention and other groups to push back on the very dangerous bill in [New Hampshire]  – which has no potency limits, allows extracts, and has no workplace employer protections,” he wrote. “Other than a few towns in Massachusetts, no New England jurisdictions have allowed retail sales. This idea that ‘everyone is doing it’ falls apart when one acknowledges that only Massachusetts has so far implemented retail legalization. Canada is an interesting point, but their black market is thriving and that argument doesn’t hold a lot of water.”

Cushing said he and other lawmakers hope to address the governor’s concerns as the bill goes through the legislative process. Employers would not have to abide by cannabis legalization under H.B. 481, according to an MPP bill summary. The proposal would tax cannabis at the wholesale level by $30 per ounce (cannabis for medical purposes would be exempt) and deliver tax revenue to the state’s general fund, substance abuse programs and localities. Possession would be limited to one ounce or legal home cultivation with a maximum of 12 plants.

Greg Moore, state director of the Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity, said prohibition has failed to eliminate a thriving black market and, despite concerns about legalization, been proven a failure. “We don’t see how prohibition is helpful,” he said at the press conference. “You can legalize cannabis in a good way and legalize cannabis in a way that ensures any black market is eradicated. If there is a black market after legalization, then these efforts will have failed.”

Moore was also joined by Senator John Reagan, a supporter of legalization; former Representative Joe Hannon, a member of the New Hampshire Commission to Study the Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana, which completed a study in 2017 looking at legalization issues; Paul Twomey, another member of the commission; Jeanne Hruska, the political director of the American Civil Liberties Union – New Hampshire; and Matt Simon of MPP.

“We are hopeful for a veto proof vote out of both chambers. Failing the 2/3 level we can be hopeful Governor Sununu will become better informed and not threaten a veto. The police continue to voice opposition never relating they are paid by the DEA to take a public position in opposition. Maybe this payoff is the reason street officers don’t oppose but the budget managers, the chiefs, do,” Reagan told Cannabis Wire.

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Cannabis is rich territory for serious journalism. Legalization raises urgent questions about regulation and law, technology and taxation, science and business, criminal justice and individual liberties. It stands at the intersection of a booming billion-dollar industry and promising advances in medicine, all while remaining federally illegal.

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