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New Hampshire Lawmakers Move to Add Cannabis Legalization to 2022 Ballot

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New Hampshire lawmakers are embracing a new strategy to legalize cannabis by putting the matter into the hands of voters, via a proposed constitutional amendment they hope to include on the 2022 ballot.

Representatives Joshua Adjutant (D), Renny Cushing (D) and Andrew Prout (R) each filed requests with the Office of Legislative Services drafting legislation that would refer questions surrounding cannabis legalization to voters. 

Adjutant’s request relates to personal liberty, “providing that adults shall have the right to possess cannabis for personal consumption;” Cushings’ request relates to the cannabis market, “providing that the state shall make no law prohibiting the use, sale or cultivation of cannabis for persons over 18 years of age;” and Prout’s request addresses the treatment of cannabis as a whole, “providing that all adults have the right to possess, use and cultivate cannabis, subject to regulation by the legislature.”

Both chambers must vote to advance any of the measures, which need a supermajority 60 percent approval to move forward. The legislature is GOP-controlled, though if the measures advance, they will avoid an otherwise likely veto on reform legislation via Governor Chris Sununu, who has historically stood against cannabis legalization.

In the case that legislators approve a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis and place it on the 2022 ballot, 67 percent of votes would have to be in favor of the amendment for it to be enacted. Matt Simon, director of public and government relations at Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of NH, pointed to the challenges of this strategy and the numbers they are up against, quote-tweeting Citizen’s Count referencing the processes of passing the House and Senate with 60 percent approval and additionally needing 67 percent of the public vote for final approval.

“This tweet is for everybody who has ever asked me “why can’t we just put legalization on the #NH ballot?” #NHPolitics,” the tweet reads.

 A recent poll of 1,824 from the University of New Hampshire indicates that this goal may be attainable, with three in four New Hampshirites favoring cannabis legalization.

In addition to these requests, lawmakers are looking to take up standalone legalization legislation that was retained from this year when they reconvene in early 2022, with advocates hopeful that it will advance based on votes in the House. However, some are hesitant to put too much stock into this possibility, with the chamber passing a legalization bill last year that soon died in a Senate Committee. 

Therefore, asking the voters to decide could be the best alternative, with many cannabis reform advocates in the state expressing frustration over the continued, repeating cycle of bills passing in the House and dying in the Senate.

While Governor Sununu is opposed to adult-use cannabis legalization, advocates were encouraged by his recent support of a bill that adds opioid-use disorder as a qualifying condition for New Hampshire’s medical cannabis program. The language in the bill would also allow out-of-state patients to access dispensaries.

The bill states that a patient must have a recommendation from a board certified addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry provider who is “actively treating the patient” for the opioid disorder in order for them to qualify for medical cannabis. In addition, a potential patient must present with opioid withdrawal symptoms or cravings.

In regard to out-of-state patients, they must qualify for medical cannabis in their home jurisdiction and provide proof of a valid recommendation. It’s up to the state Department of Health and Human Services to develop rules around dispensary verification surrounding the eligibility of visiting, out-of-state patients.

A provision of the bill also notes that those visiting out-of-state would only be able to visit a New Hampshire dispensary to obtain cannabis up to three times in a 12-month period, unless they are able to provide a statement from their health provide that affirms they have a condition that qualifies them for medical cannabis under New Hampshire statute.

New Hampshire is not the only state that is looking into alternatives to move forward with adult-use cannabis legalization, with Maryland also looking to craft legislation that would place a cannabis legalization vote on their 2022 ballot.

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