Last update: January 19, 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 it will be a challenge to pass a legalization bill in 2021, two such bills have been introduced in the House. 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.
While some politicians continue to oppose sensible reforms, public opinion continues to turn strongly against the prohibition of cannabis. Two consecutive polls published by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center have found that 68% of Granite Staters support legalization.
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.
In 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.
Unfortunately, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill 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.
Legislators have vowed to try again in 2021. Rep. Dennis Acton (R-Fremont) has introduced HB 350, which is identical to the previous two home cultivation bills, and House Minority Leader Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) is cosponsoring the effort.
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 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.
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.
You can read more about the program and access application forms at the department’s website.
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.
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