Advocates seek to end state's "island of prohibition" status
Last update: June 30, 2021
New Hampshire continues to lag behind other New England states on cannabis policy, but the tide of public opinion has turned strongly in favor of reform. Now that the “Live Free or Die” state is surrounded by jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for adults, the arguments for maintaining prohibition become weaker each day.
Sadly, advocates experienced several setbacks in the 2020 election. Gov. Chris Sununu, who opposes legalization, won re-election by a wide margin, and Republicans regained majority control of both the House and Senate. (While there are a number of Republican supporters of legalization in the New Hampshire General Court, the changes to the legislature resulted in fewer allies and more opponents.)
Although two legalization bills were introduced in the House in 2021, both have been “retained” by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, effectively delaying a vote until 2022. HB 237 would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis for adults 21 and older, and HB 629 would simply legalize possession and limited home cultivation. You can read a summary of HB 237 here and a summary of HB 629 here.
The legalization effort did make significant progress in 2020 before the legislative session was brought to a premature end in light of COVID-19. Advocates focused on supporting HB 1648, a bill that would have simply legalized possession and limited home cultivation for adults 21 and older. The House passed HB 1648 in a 236-112 vote, but unfortunately, Senate leaders used COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid voting on the bill.
House approves home cultivation for patients (again), but Senate rejects the legislation
Although New Hampshire passed a medical cannabis law in 2013, home cultivation remains a felony for patients and caregivers in the “Live Free or Die” state. Since then, the House has passed several home cultivation bills, but they have faced significant challenges in the Senate and have not been supported by any of the last three New Hampshire governors.
Legislators made another attempt in 2021. Rep. Dennis Acton (R-Fremont) introduced HB 350, which was identical to the previous two home cultivation bills, and House Minority Leader Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) cosponsored the bill. HB 350 was approved by the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs in a 20-1 vote, and it passed the full House without debate on February 24. On May 5, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee decided against passing the bill in a party-line vote. Click here to learn how the senators on that committee voted on HB 350.
Unfortunately, the Senate has historically been much less supportive than the House. In 2019, for the first time since 2012, the Senate approved a similar bill that would have allowed home cultivation of cannabis by registered patients and caregivers. In a 14-10 vote, the Senate passed HB 364; the House had already passed the bill in a voice vote.
Sadly, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed HB 364 on August 2, 2019. The House voted to override the governor’s veto on September 18, 2019 in a 259-120 vote, but the effort fell short by three votes in the Senate on the following day. An identical bill, SB 420, passed the Senate in February 2020 in a voice vote, but the House suspended its work in light of COVID-19, and the bill did not receive a hearing or a vote.
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.
In 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. You can read a summary of the changes here.
MPP’s Matt Simon and former Rep. Evalyn Merrick — who sponsored medical cannabis legislation — after the signing of HB 573 in 2013.
N.H. stops arresting people for possessing small amounts of cannabis and enables annulment of records!
On July 18, 2017, Gov. Chris Sununu signed HB 640, a cannabis decriminalization bill, into law. The law reduced penalties for possessing three-quarters of an ounce or less of cannabis from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation punishable only by a fine (a summary of the law is here).
Then, in 2019, Gov. Sununu signed HB 399, which allows people who received misdemeanor convictions for possessing small amounts of cannabis prior to decriminalization to have their records annulled. The law took effect on January 1, 2020.
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 cannabis policy reforms.