House-passed marijuana legalization bill hits Senate pothole

May 9—CONCORD — A key Senate committee recommended killing the House-passed bill to make New Hampshire the last New England state to legalize the sale of marijuana to adults aged 21 or older.

There are growing signs that when it meets Thursday the full Senate will follow suit and reject legislation (HB 639) the House's top Republican and Democrat have co-authored and got more than 70% support in that chamber.

Senate Deputy Democratic Leader Becky Whitley of Hopkinton said New Hampshire's citizens overwhelmingly want this reform and it would bring back revenue from residents here who are buying marijuana in neighboring states.

"This will recapture revenue that is fleeing our state. New Hampshire is this island of prohibition and money is being spent right over our borders," Whitley said.


Without debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee disagreed and voted along party lines, 3-2, to urge the bill go down to defeat.

"New Hampshire, like many other states, is grappling with the devastating impact of the drug crisis on individuals, families and communities," said Senate Majority Leader Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, who chairs this panel.

"While I recognize the diverse opinions surrounding the legalization of recreational drugs, now is not the right time for such a measure."

All three Republicans on the panel wanted to kill the bill while Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, joined Whitley against that move.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, said as a House member in 2022 he helped perfect a bill to have the state control the sale of cannabis at stores the New Hampshire Liquor Commission would manage.

The Senate rejected that bill last spring.

"The state model was by far the best option I've ever seen for this, it's the only cannabis bill I have voted for," said Lang.

"This is not the right approach and raising revenue is never a good reason to make such a fundamental change in drug policy."

Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, authored that 2022 legislation as a House member and he too has said he is opposed to this option.

Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, is against the cause and Gov. Chris Sununu said last week that he did not believe the Senate would pass it.

The state's police chiefs and public health advocacy groups such as New Futures oppose this measure that attracted a wide coalition of supporters from the liberal American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire to the fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity.

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, told WMUR Monday this legislation is a top priority for the House and its defeat could put in danger legislation that senators are counting on to become law.