Marijuana

Gov. Chris Sununu opposes full-blown legalization; Democratic opponent Molly Kelly is in favor.

CONCORD — Now that the final version of the report from the commission to study legalizing marijuana is out, some members are complaining that it provides a roadmap to legalization even though there was no consensus about legalization on the committee.

The 47-page draft recommends the regulatory scheme that should be put in place if the state decides to legalize, but makes no recommendation pro or con on legalization.

“We are grateful to all of the commission members for their hard work and time spent preparing this report, but we remain concerned that the report has failed to sufficiently address the harms of legalization and commercialization of marijuana,” said Kate Frey, vice president of advocacy for New Futures and a commission member.

“Despite questions raised by several presenters, reports and studies, the report has thus far not included recommendations or strategies for addressing increased rates of youth use and detrimental health impacts of highly potent products, among other concerns. Marijuana legalization and commercialization poses significant threats to the health and wellness of Granite Staters,” she said.

Although most study commission reports are signed by all members, members from law enforcement and other factions opposed to legalization refused to the sign the report in a heated debate at the final meeting before its Nov. 1 release.

“All in all, we still see it as a framework for legalization, which we oppose,” said Jake Berry, vice president of policy at New Futures.

The only major difference in the final version of the report and a draft copy released by the New Hampshire Union Leader two weeks ago is a large type, bold-faced disclaimer on the opening page that makes clear the commission did not achieve a consensus on legalization.

“Members of the Commission to Study the Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana agree to the filing of this final report by the chairman,” states the disclaimer.

“This action should not be construed in any way as an adoption of any particular position by any commission member or the state agency or organization they represent on the underlying issue of the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. Moreover, this report takes no position on the issue of the legalization of recreational use of marijuana.”

The report does take the position that it’s time for the state to take the “next step” in the evolution of its marijuana policy, and a legalization bill is almost certain to be introduced in the House next year.

“As a state, we have already accepted medical marijuana as a fact and recently decriminalized possession of three quarters of an ounce or less by making it akin to a traffic violation and taking away the stigma of a misdemeanor conviction which is on someone’s record for life,” according to the report’s executive summary. “The next step for consideration as a state is full legalization.”

The state could make up to $57 million a year by taxing the retail sale of marijuana, according to the report, which has been in the making for more than a year.

The 17-member commission comprised of various lawmakers and stakeholders met 26 times and heard from a variety of sources, including other states that have legalized.

Among the key recommendations:

Oversight: The commission recommends that a standalone Cannabis Commission should be created to license and regulate retail sales, rather than assign the task to an existing entity like the Liquor Commission.

Public use: There should be no social clubs, hotels or restaurants that allow marijuana use or sell marijuana-infused foods. “These types of establishments should only be considered several years after legalization occurs,” according to the report.

The draft also recommends a ban on smoking or vaping marijuana in all outdoor public places and restrictions on signage and advertising.

Limits: Any future legislation to legalize marijuana should limit legal possession to one ounce for individuals 21 years of age or older.

Taxation: The commission recommends an excise tax in the wholesale market between $23 and $56 an ounce, and a sales tax on retail sales of 7 to 15 percent, if such a sales tax targeted to just one product is deemed constitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Based on an assumed market of about 131,500 individuals who would use products sold at New Hampshire retail marijuana stores at prices from $332 to $371 per ounce and consumption rates of five to eight ounces per year, the low end of taxation would generate up to $26 million while the high end could generate up to $57 million.

“If legalization and commercialization of marijuana is done efficiently and successfully, surplus revenues will more than likely be generated that will flow into the general fund,” according to the report, since the high end of estimated expenses to run the program total $15 million.

Those surplus revenues are calculated after deducting the cost of administering the program along with education and marijuana addiction and treatment programs.

Home cultivation: Any future legislation to legalize and commercialize marijuana should allow for home cultivation with a limit of six plants per individual or 12 plants per household.

Therapeutic cannabis: In the event of legalization, the commission recommends that the nonprofit charitable trusts created to manage the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries be dissolved so they can become for-profit entities able to compete in the adult use market, and that the new Cannabis Commission would control both recreational and medical markets.

The House has acted favorably on legalization in the past, but legalization efforts have failed in the Senate and would almost certainly be vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

dsolomon@unionleader.com