CONCORD, NH – The House on Thursday approved a bill legalizing recreational cannabis that would be sold through a state retail monopoly similar to the state liquor business.
Like other bills legalizing recreational marijuana use that the House has passed over the years, it faces a steep climb in the Senate, which has yet to approve a legalization bill.
House Bill 1598 passed the House by a wide margin several weeks ago but ran into opposition before the House Ways and Means Committee where its financial assumptions were handed over in question, in particular its revenue estimates for the state.
Other issues also surfaced, including the lack of a state oversight board outside of the Liquor Commission that would regulate, buy, sell and advertise cannabis, and the question of who would produce the product according to the conditions set out in the bill.
Another major concern was the fate of the state’s alternative treatment dispensaries for the medical marijuana program, whose owners do not believe will survive if they have to compete with the state monopoly.
While the amendment approved in the House of Ways and Means by a 12-10 vote addresses some of the concerns, a series of amendments were introduced on Thursday to address the issues in the bill that passed.
A proposed major change in the structure of the bill that would have used private retailers to sell the products and not the state, however, failed.
Rep. Max Abramson, R-Seabrook, said the proposal before the House would be a first, seeing socialism work for the first time in history, noting that everything about the proposal goes against the platform of the GOP’s privatization of the state instead of growing government monopolies.
He also criticized the proposal’s business plan and maintains that it won’t produce anything close to what the sponsors claim it will produce.
Abramson’s plan would collect state revenue through the room and meal tax, prompting the bill’s sponsors to claim it would open the door “to a true retail sales tax.” “, according to the main sponsor, Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem. .
He and other sponsors of the bill say their plan will provide property tax relief by reducing the amount of statewide education property tax that needs to be increased, it would help wipe out the large unfunded liability of the state pension system and provide additional funding for mental health and addictions. prevention and treatment services.
While a number of House members have said they support ending the ban on marijuana use and want arrests to end, they fear the proposal may not be the best the state can. To do.
Representative Dick Ames, D-Jaffrey, said that although the model is based on the structure of the state liquor commission, the two would be very different because cannabis would have to be grown in New Hampshire while the commission liquor can source its products from all over the world. world.
Similar models have been used in Canada in Ontario and Quebec, he said, but without success.
While sponsors say it will generate about $250 million a year for the state, others told the committee it would likely be more than a tenth of that figure.
Rep. Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton, said the proposal “is a win across the board for all citizens of New Hampshire.”
He, like others, said it would give New Hampshire residents what they want, the legalization of marijuana as neighboring states have already done.
“It’s been thoroughly vetted, has bipartisan support, and we can always come back and improve on it,” Lang said.
The House voted 169-156 to approve the bill.
Garry Rayno can be reached at [email protected]