The New Hampshire Senate voted against a bill to legalize recreational pot on Thursday, likely killing the prospects for the adoption of substantive cannabis policy reform this year. The measure, House Bill 629, was rejected by the state Senate with a bipartisan vote of 15-9.
Under the measure, possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of pot would have been legalized for adults 21 and older. The bill also would have allowed for the possession of some cannabis tinctures and edibles, and home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants by adults would also have been permitted. The legislation did not, however, include provisions for the commercial production and sale of cannabis.
The New Hampshire House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved House Bill 629 earlier this year with a bipartisan vote of 241-113. But the bill was rejected on Thursday by the state Senate over concerns about public safety.
“This is not a harmless substance,” Republican Senator Bob Giuda told colleagues during a debate before Thursday’s vote. “Legalizing this does no good for any segment of our population.”
Broad Support for Recreational Cannabis Legalization
Senators in favor of the bill noted that cannabis policy reform enjoys broad support in New Hampshire. Recent polling from the University of New Hampshire shows that 74% of the state’s residents approve ending the prohibition on cannabis for adults, with more than two-thirds expressing support for legislation that would have authorized sales of legal cannabis by state-run retailers. Democratic Senator Becky Whitley said that the state is falling behind its neighbors on cannabis legalization.
“New Hampshire has become an island in New England, with our overly burdensome regulations of cannabis that are out of sync with what the scientific health and social data says,” Whitley said. “And most importantly, with what New Hampshire voters want.”
Whitley also referred to data released this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire that showed that Black residents of New Hampshire are 4.8 times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people. She also noted that the disparity is more pronounced in some areas, saying “13.9 times: That’s the number of times that Black people are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession when compared to white people in Manchester, despite both groups using marijuana at roughly the same rate.”
Republican Senator Bill Gannon disputed the data offered by Whitley, saying he had read “studies from numerous police departments” that he said showed that people of color are arrested at lower rates than white people. Gannon’s office did not reply to an email from High Times requesting more information on the research cited by the senator.
Gannon also said that lawmakers should not be swayed by the international cannabis reform movement.
“In New Hampshire, we make men and women of granite,” he said, adding “I don’t care what my three neighboring states and Canada do. The majority of the U.S. is still against legalization.”
Earlier on Thursday, the New Hampshire Senate killed a separate bill that would have legalized recreational cannabis possession and sales. Under House Bill 1598, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission would have been given the responsibility “to regulate and administer the cultivation, manufacture, testing, and retail sale of cannabis statewide,” with recreational cannabis sales carried out through the agency’s state-run liquor stores.
The bill was passed by the New Hampshire House of Representatives earlier this month by a vote of 169-156. But with a unanimous vote on April 20, the Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended that the bill be deemed “inexpedient to legislate.”
Senators followed that recommendation on Thursday by a unanimous voice vote. With both bills killed by the Senate, recreational cannabis legalization efforts in New Hampshire are likely dead until next year.