In the landscape of U.S. politics, the journey toward cannabis legalization has seen backing from both the blue and a slice of the red, stirring debates across state halls. Opponents wave the flag of public health concerns, while proponents counter, touting cannabis’s milder nature compared to alcohol and its potential health boons. Now, stepping in line with their New England counterparts, they’re geared up to mark themselves as the 25th state to green-light recreational cannabis use.

A landmark moment unfolded on February 22nd, as the chamber’s voices voted in favor of House Bill 1633, a decisive step toward welcoming legal, taxed, and regulated recreational cannabis. This bill sketches out a future where folks aged 21 and up could legally acquire and hold up to 4 ounces of cannabis buds, 10 grams of its concentrated form, or 2000 milligrams of THC goodness, selecting from the offerings of 15 sanctioned dispensaries within state bounds.

The legislation now heads to the Senate for approval, but only last year did the House pass a similar version of H.B. 1633, and Senate lawmakers rejected the bill. Following the rejection last year, Governor Chris Sununu announced requirements for future adult-use cannabis legislation that would need to be met if the bill was to avoid his veto. Sununu has publicly recognized that New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not legalized cannabis yet and that change is inevitable. However, he stated his focus was still on the safety of his residents. While ready to sign a policy with the proper framework, Sununu believes New Hampshire would be in the driver’s seat to ensure harm reduction rather than revenue growth. 

New Hampshire lawmakers argue that licensing a certain amount of stores in the state would help reduce access to illicit markets that possibly contain laced cannabis and other harms that come from illicit markets. Across the nation, state lawmakers have concerns that legalization of the drug could pose a public safety risk, claiming that unregulated cannabis is often laced with other drugs, specifically fentanyl – an opioid massively more potent than morphine and heroin. 

Yet, The American Medical Association found in a December 2022 study that complete legalization has reduced marijuana-related arrests. However, the unregulated market is still of great concern for American lawmakers. 

Last year’s failed legislation discussed the licensing 67 dispensaries to mirror the number of liquor stores in The Granite State. This number was problematic for some lawmakers, including Sununu. Sununu shot down this possibility and proposed a “nonnegotiable” 15 dispensaries. H.B. 1633 does stick to Sununu’s requirement of 15 licensed dispensaries but leaves open the door for future stores should areas in the state need access to help regulate the market. 

While H.B. 1633 does bend slightly to the requirements of Sununu, lawmakers veered away from the Governor’s proposed state-run model, opting for a more transparent system that would gain public trust. Many of the changes H.B. 1633 underwent from its predecessor were designed to advance the legislation’s support more broadly in the state. The House hopes to have developed new legislation that will make its way for approval on Sununu’s desk.