REP. PATRICK Abrami, R-Stratham, stopped by the State House newsroom Friday to make a good point about the history of efforts to legalize marijuana in the state. The good-humored Abrami, who led the Commission to Study the Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana from 2017–18, wanted to set the record straight.
It has been reported, he said, that marijuana legalization has passed the New Hampshire House in the past, only to be defeated in the Senate. I’ve written that, and at least one other reporter in the room at the time acknowledged making the same mistake. An online search turned up a few other references.
The idea seems to have taken on a life of its own, so in the interest of accuracy, herewith is a brief history of efforts to legalize marijuana, going back to the start of the decade.
It demonstrates that legalization has, as Abrami pointed out, consistently died in the House without ever reaching the Senate.
In 2010, HB 1652, allowing purchase and use of marijuana by adults, regulating the purchase and use of marijuana, and imposing taxes on the sale of marijuana, was referred to interim study in a 272-76 House vote.
The study committee held six meetings and filed the bill as “not recommended for future legislation.” It died there.
In 2012, HB 1705, allowing purchase and use of marijuana by adults, regulating the purchase and use of marijuana and imposing taxes on the sale of marijuana, died in a House floor vote, 228-89.
In 2013, HB 337, legalizing marijuana, failed in the House, 239-112.
An interesting footnote to the unsuccessful 2013 effort: It was the first year Republican state Sen. John Reagan of Deerfield appeared as a Senate sponsor. Rep. Renny Cushing, chief sponsor of this year’s legalization effort, alluded to Reagan as “the dean of cannabis legalization in New Hampshire” at a pro-legalization press conference last week.
In 2014, HB 492, regarding legalization and regulation of marijuana, lost in roll call 192-140, after a series of amendments and votes on the House floor.
The first breakthrough for legalization advocates came in 2015, with HB 150, establishing a commission to study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. That bill passed on a voice vote in the House but later died on a voice vote in the Senate.
In 2016, HB 1610, legalizing the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use, was tabled by the House in a 229-119 vote and died there. A second legalization bill that year, HB 1694, died in a 190-112 roll call.
In 2017, the tide started to turn. HB 215, establishing a commission to study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana, passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu.
HB 640, a bill to decriminalize possession of three-quarters of an ounce, passed the House 318-36 and Senate 17-6, and was signed into law.
Last year, the House came closer than ever to passing legalization. HB 656 came to the floor with a recommendation from the Criminal Justice Committee to kill the bill, but that committee report was overturned in a 183-162 vote.
Pro-legalization reps then proposed a floor amendment to remove commercialization and limit the bill to legal possession and home cultivation. That passed the House 207-139, the high-water mark for pro-legalization voting.
That could have set up a confrontation with the Senate, but House leadership referred the bill to a second committee, Ways and Means (which likely will happen if this year’s bill clears the House on its first vote).
The Ways and Means Committee recommended the bill for further study, and, despite its earlier vote, the House endorsed that recommendation, 153-135. At the end of the interim study period, the bill was not recommended for further legislation.
That brings us to HB 481, the current and most ambitious legalization, commercialization and taxation bill. After a well-attended public hearing last week, it will be subject to a subcommittee work session on Tuesday, at 10 a.m. in the LOB.
There was one instance when the Senate snuffed out a House initiative relaxing marijuana laws. In 2016, a bill reducing the penalty for possessing up to a half-ounce to a violation passed the House, but was defeated in the Senate.