House passes legalization bill with veto-proof majority; advocates seek to overcome governor's opposition and end state’s “island of prohibition” status in 2020

Last update: February 20, 2020


NH island of prohibitionNew Hampshire continues to lag behind other New England states on cannabis policy, but the tide appears to be turning. 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.

Since the Senate and governor have already made it clear that they’re not ready to support legalizing and regulating cannabis sales in 2020, advocates decided to refocus their efforts on supporting HB 1648, a bill that would simply legalize possession and limited home cultivation for adults 21 and older — similar to Vermont’s legalization law. The House passed HB 1648 in a 236-112 vote on February 20. Next, it will be considered by the Senate. You can read a summary of the bill here

New Hampshire should not be an island of prohibition! If you live in New Hampshire, please contact your state senators and tell them it’s time for the “Live Free or Die” state to stop punishing adults who choose to grow or use cannabis.

Advocates made great progress in 2019. For the first time in its history, the House of Representatives voted to send a legalization bill, HB 481, to the Senate after it was approved by two committees. Sadly, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on December 3 to refer the bill for “interim study.” 

Unfortunately, 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 support the legalization bill.

A study commission began considering legalization and regulation in fall 2017, and it issued 54 detailed recommendations in November 2018.

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, demonstrating that legalization is more popular than any elected official in the state.

Both chambers of legislature vote to legalize home cultivation for patients; governor vetoes bill, and override falls three votes short


Matt Simon lobbying for NH HB 364On May 2, 2019, for the first time since 2012, 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. The House had already passed the bill in a voice vote on March 7, 2019. 

Unfortunately, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill on August 2. The House voted to override the governor’s veto on September 18 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. It will proceed to the House for further consideration.

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 prior to her passing in 2016. MPP was proud to have supported both the legislative effort and 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 2019 that will allow each of the existing dispensaries to open a second location if approved by state regulators.

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 and enables annulment of records!


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 (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 marijuana policy reforms.

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