New Hampshire Rep. proposes cannabis legalization bill

New Hampshire Representative Renny Cushing is asking lawmakers in the state to follow the will of the people and join neighboring states that have already legalized recreational cannabis. Cushing has proposed a comprehensive bill intended to legalize marijuana for those 21 and older, joining the ranks of neighboring states Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts.  

Sponsors of the bill include Senators John Reagan (R), and Martha Hennessy (D) and Republican representatives Carol McGuire, John O’Connor, and Jim Webb all of whom were part of the committee that commissioned the marijuana study.

Although the bill has not yet been made public, Cushing provided New Hampshire Public Radio with a copy of the bill.

Marijuana Bill Preview: Cannabis Legalization Proposal Estimates A $33 Million Windfall For N.H. https://t.co/re5DdMHhBu #NHPolitics

— Renny Cushing (@rennycushing) December 27, 2018

What’s in the bill?

According to NHPR’s report, the measure, which references a recent marijuana commission study, calls for legalizing the possession of up to an ounce of dried cannabis flower or 5 grams of concentrated cannabis. Residents would also be allowed to grow up to three mature and three immature marijuana plants. Public consumption would be prohibited. And cities and towns would have the option of opting out altogether or limiting cannabis operations in their jurisdiction.

Under the measure, consuming cannabis in a moving vehicle and growing marijuana in restricted areas or property visible to the public will be strictly prohibited.

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The bill also calls for the establishment of a cannabis control commission which will be tasked with regulating the state’s cannabis industry in a manner similar to its alcohol industry.

Also included in the bill according to NHPR are regulations which cover the manufacturing, testing, advertising, and packaging of cannabis products. Cannabis companies would be prohibited from operating within 1,000 feet of a school.

Aa drug monitoring initiative included in the proposal will report on youth and adult cannabis use rates as well as rates of alcohol and illegal drug use.

Provisions in the bill create a process by which anyone arrested or convicted of marijuana possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce will have the right to petition the court to annul the charges.

And finally, Cushing’s proposal includes the creation of a state regulatory system for the cultivation of hemp under federal rules set by the freshly signed 2018 Farm Bill.

Referencing the study released in the fall, Cushing told NHPR, “We’ve done our best to address every concern that was raised, certainly every concern that was raised in the year and a half study that the Abrami committee undertook.”  

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Opposition to the bill

Detractors are already lining up in opposition to the bill. Most notably, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu who is adamantly opposed to marijuana legalization. The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is also opposed.

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A number of public health advocacy groups have also expressed their opposition to legalization including New Futures. Vice President of Advocacy at New Futures Kate Frey made an official statement upon the announcement claiming that the Abrami Committee’s report indicated legalization poses risks to young people in the state saying, "we cannot sacrifice the future of our young people by commercializing this harmful substance."

Taxes and appropriations

The Abrami Committee's report says tax revenue could top $58 million, depending on the tax structure. Cushing estimates that his proposal, which includes a tax rate of $30 an ounce, would raise $33 million a year in tax revenue.

The bill appropriates $2 million up front to create the Cannabis Control Commission and another $100,000 to establish a state monitoring system.

According to NHPR, the bill also appropriates the following:

  • Money to the Department of Health and Human Services for public education and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

  • Funding for towns and cities where cannabis establishments are located

  • Resources for public safety and law enforcement agencies for hiring and training drug experts, and for impaired roadside driving enforcement training

Next steps

The bill is expected to be formally introduced next month when the new legislative session begins. It will be debated by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee (for which Cushing is the incoming chairman), the House Ways & Means committee, and the House Finance committee where the language is likely to be revised before coming up for a full vote sometime in 2019.

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