Legalization bill passes House but Senate votes to delay action; advocates will seek to end state’s “island of prohibition” status in 2020

Last update: September 20, 2019


Advocates for legalizing and regulating cannabis made great progress in 2019. For the first time in its history, the House of Representatives voted to approve a legalization bill, HB 481, and advanced it to the Senate.

The bill passed the House on April 4 in a 200-163 vote after it was approved by two committees. Sadly, on May 30, the Senate voted to delay action on the bill until January 2020.

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

Despite the fact 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. 

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


On 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.

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 will allow people who received misdemeanor convictions for possessing small amounts of cannabis prior to decriminalization to have their records annulled. The new law will take 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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