Advocates will seek to end state's "island of prohibition" status in 2021
Last update: November 4, 2020
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.) Under these circumstances, it may be very difficult to pass a legalization bill in 2021, despite overwhelming support from the general public.
The legalization effort did make significant progress in 2020 before the legislative session was brought to a premature end in light of COVID-19. Since the Senate and governor had made it clear that they were not ready to support legalizing and regulating cannabis sales, advocates decided to focus on supporting HB 1648, a bill that would have simply legalized 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 (you can read a summary of the bill here). Unfortunately, Senate leaders used COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid voting on the bill.
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 have allowed 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, 2019. 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, 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.