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New Hampshire House Votes to Legalize Recreational Cannabis, But There Are More Hurdles Ahead

The legalization bill must still overcome several other roadblocks before it reaches the governor's desk, and some are not convinced the legislation will even be approved by the Senate.

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Against all odds, the New Hampshire House of Representatives just passed a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis throughout the state. This bill would allow adults aged 21 or older to legally possess up to three-quarters of an ounce of weed and grow up to three mature cannabis plants at home. A House committee tried to kill the bill, arguing that the legislature should wait for the results of an ongoing study regarding the regulation and taxation of retail sales, which is due November 1st, 2018t. Supporters of cannabis reform won out in the end, and legislators voted 183 to 162 against killing the bill, and then voted 207 to 139 to approve it.

The current form of the bill would allow adults to grow or possess modest quantities of weed, but does not allow retail sales in any form. This noncommercial aspect of the bill bears many similarities to the legalization measure currently being proposed in Vermont, which would also allow limited possession and home-grows, but does not legalize retail sales. The Vermont bill is likely to succeed in the very near future, as the state legislature is expected to approve it this week, and Gov. Phil Scott has pledged to sign it into law.

But unlike Gov. Scott, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is firmly opposed to legalization. "Are you kidding? We are in the middle of one of the biggest drug crises the state has ever seen," Sununu said in an interview with the Concord Monitor and WKXL Radio. "To go to a full recreational marijuana when other states are seeing all the problems it has and issues it is bearing – it's definitely not something I'm supportive of right now."

Even with Sununu's opposition, there is still hope for legalization. The governor's term ends next year, and other candidates, including former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, have voiced their support for legalization. "When I am Governor in 2019, I will advocate for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis for adult recreational use," Marchand said in a statement. "Doing so will lower costs for incarceration, courts, and law enforcement; it will *help* with the opioid crisis by decreasing the use of prescription opiates for pain relief."

The bill must still overcome several other hurdles before it even reaches the governor's desk, though. The state House leadership sent the bill back to the House Ways and Means Committee, and if this committee makes changes to the bill, the House must vote again before the bill moves to the Senate. The state Senate counts many proponents of cannabis prohibition among its ranks, making passage of the bill less likely. Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley told the Concord Monitor that he doesn't believe that the bill will pass the Senate this year, because senators "want to take stock with what's happening in other states" before deciding to approve the legislation.

The state Senate has also been criticized for interfering with the creation of the committee tasked with investigating legal retail sales. The original version of the bill, as approved by the House, would have created a bipartisan committee with input from cannabis advocates like the ACLU and the Marijuana Policy Project alongside opponents like the Association of Chiefs of Police. The Senate version of the bill removed all advocates from the committee, replacing them with opponents.

The New Hampshire legislature has been debating cannabis-related bills for over a decade, but the state's made significant progress with reform in recent years. In 2013, the state legalized medical cannabis. Last fall, lawmakers voted to decriminalize low-level possession in the state. Now, the punishment for possessing three-quarters of an ounce of weed or less will be a fine of $100 for a first offense, instead of misdemeanor penalties including $2,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.