Legalization bill advances to Senate; advocates seek to end state’s “island of prohibition” status

Last update: May 3, 2019


On April 4, 2019, the House of Representatives voted 200-163 in favor of passing HB 481, a bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis for adults 21 and older. When the Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on HB 481 on April 23, there were so many people signed up to speak that time ran out, so the hearing will be continued on May 7 at 9 a.m. in Room 100 of the State House.

If you live in New Hampshire, please take a few moments to contact your senator and send a follow-up message to your representatives.

The House of Representatives initially voted 209-147 to pass HB 481 on February 27, after it had been approved by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. The bill was then sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, which amended the tax structure and revenue allocations and voted 14-6 in favor of passage. Although the votes fell short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a gubernatorial veto, it was a significant step forward, since the House had voted to kill previous legalization bills, in 2014 and 2018, after they had passed the House in an initial vote.

You can read a summary of the amended bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of 11 cosponsors, here

Now that all three of New Hampshire’s neighboring states have made cannabis legal for adults 21 and older, the opposition to ending marijuana prohibition in the Granite State has faded substantially. Sadly, Gov. Chris Sununu has come out strongly in opposition to legalization efforts. However, it will be possible to override his potential veto if two-thirds of the House and Senate can be convinced to do so.

A study commission began considering legalization and regulation in fall 2017, and it issued 54 detailed recommendations in November 2018. HB 481 is based, to a large extent, on these recommendations.

While some politicians continue to oppose sensible reforms, public opinion continues to turn strongly against the prohibition of marijuana. Two consecutive polls published by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center have found that 68% of Granite Staters support legalizing marijuana. A poll published in February 2018 found more than two-to-one support for HB 656, a bill that would have legalized possession and limited home cultivation. 

House votes to legalize home cultivation for patients; Senate agrees for first time in history!


On May 2, 2019, for the first time in its history, the Senate approved a bill that would allow home cultivation of cannabis by registered patients and caregivers. In a 14-10 vote, the Senate passed HB 364, which would allow possession of three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings for each patient. Next, the bill will return to the House for concurrence with amendments before it advances to the governor’s desk.

HB 364 already passed the House in a voice vote on March 7, 2019.

If you live in New Hampshire, please call Gov. Sununu and urge him to support HB 364.

New Hampshire’s therapeutic cannabis program was created on July 23, 2013, when then-Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill allowing seriously ill New Hampshire residents to use cannabis for medical purposes.

A terminally ill lung cancer patient, Linda Horan, became the first patient to receive an ID card in December 2015 after she sued the state and won, and she was able to visit a dispensary in Maine to obtain cannabis legally. MPP was proud to have supported this lawsuit, and we are grateful to Linda, her attorney, Paul Twomey, and Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) for their efforts on behalf of all New Hampshire patients.

The first N.H. dispensary began serving patients on April 30, 2016, and the other three approved dispensaries opened in the summer of 2016. A bill passed in 2018 that will allow two of the existing dispensaries to open a second location if they choose to do so.

On June 28, 2017, Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law HB 160, which added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions to the law, and HB 157, which added moderate to severe chronic pain. HB 157 went into effect on August 15, and HB 160 went into effect on August 27. You can read a summary of the changes here.

You can read more about the program and access application forms at the department’s website.

MPP’s Matt Simon and former Rep. Evalyn Merrick — who sponsored
medical marijuana legislation
after the signing of HB 573 in 2013.

N.H. stops arresting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana!


On July 18, 2017, Gov. Chris Sununu signed HB 640, a marijuana decriminalization bill, into law. Under the new law, effective September 16, 2017, penalties for possessing three quarters of an ounce or less of marijuana are reduced from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation punishable only by a fine.

Although the House had passed decriminalization bills several times in recent years, this bill passed overwhelmingly in a 318-36 vote on March 8. The Senate passed an amended version in a 17-6 vote. On June 1, the House approved the Senate’s amendment on a voice vote, sending the bill to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk (a summary of the law is here).

MPP advocated for decriminalization in New Hampshire for more than a decade in advance of this victory. However, we know that this progress would not have been possible without the hard work of our many dedicated allies. In particular, we’d like to thank attorney Paul Twomey, the ACLU-NH, the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, and HB 640 sponsor Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) for their tireless efforts in support of sensible marijuana policy reforms.

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