Granite Staters who dream of legalized marijuana saw their hopes go up in smoke when the House overwhelmingly rejected the Senate’s plan and sent the cannabis bill to a “committee of conference.” Which almost certainly means there won’t be a legalization bill this session, Concord insiders told NHJournal.

The House’s rejection of the Senate-amended bill occurred by way of a 117-252 landslide.

State Rep. Jared Sullivan (D-Bethlehem) said the original House version of the bill set “a great example that this body can be proud of” and called it a “strong bipartisan bill that was done in good faith to solve a problem the majority of people in this state want solved.”

“Unfortunately, the members of the other body [Senate] decided to gut all of that good work and replace it with what is objectively a deeply-flawed, profoundly bad bill when it comes to the goal of legalizing cannabis sales in New Hampshire.”

Recent polling shows seven out of 10 Granite Staters support legalization efforts. The House on April 11 voted 239-136 to advance the bill’s initial version.

State Sen. Daryl Abbas (R-Salem) told NHJournal at the time that the House passed a “fantasyland” version of the bill and predicted it wouldn’t survive the Senate.

Rather than kill it, however, the Senate voted 14-9 to advance a heavily-amended version of the House bill, a first for the upper chamber in the history of the pot legalization effort.

The Senate’s amendments called for the creation of a “franchise model” featuring heavy state regulations overseen by the state Liquor Commission, a priority that Gov. Chris Sununu has not been shy about demanding. Many of the amendments, such as penalties for public use and a 15-store cap on the number of dispensaries, were either proposed or endorsed by Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), who is not shy about acknowledging that he opposes legalization.

The message in the days leading up to the vote was that supporters of legalized cannabis should support the bill today, get it signed by Sununu, and then fix it in the future.

That argument did not prevail.

State Rep. John Hunt (R-Rindge) said opponents of legalization wanted the House to reject the bill.

“You could say, ‘Well, if the opposition likes it this can’t be good,’” Hunt said. “But that’s the whole point of what the Senate did.

“The Senate made this bill the ugliest, most government-intrusive, most overregulated government statute they could amend at the midnight hour, for one singular purpose – for you to vote no. If you vote no, they’ve won. That is the number one reason why you must vote for it today.”

State Rep. Kevin Verville (R-Deerfield) said he couldn’t support it, whatever the political calculations, because “it’s not the New Hampshire solution.”

“This bill is Big Pot,” Verville said. “The only communication I got in favor of this bill was from Big Pot. Big Pot loves this bill, and if I was Big Pot, I’d love this bill, too. But I’m not Big Pot.

“I’m Little Pot. And Little Pot is mom-and-pops, and there’s no mom-and-pops in this. This is not a free market, this is a government monopoly.”

Sullivan echoed his GOP counterparts’ concerns regarding government overreach.

“If you’re concerned about civil liberties, are you really comfortable with the idea of growing the Liquor Commission into a new police organization that can come into your home — because home-grow is not allowed — and actually bust people over a few plants?” he asked.

Thursday’s debate did feature some lighthearted moments.

State Rep. Anita Burroughs (D-Glen), commenting on Hunt’s observation that “more people prefer a [cannabis] gummy to having a nightcap,” quipped that she agrees “because I only drink on legislative days.”

According to New Hampshire General Court rules, committees of conference feature seven lawmakers, with four picked by House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonerry) and three chosen by Bradley. The committee has until Thursday, June 6, to agree to a final bill, which must then be passed by the full House and Senate.

Hunt and Burroughs were named Thursday to join fellow representatives Juliet Harvey-Bolia (R-Tilton) and Keith Ammon (R-New Boston) to fill the House seats on the conference committee.

Following Thursday’s vote, Bradley confirmed he’ll serve as a lead negotiator alongside Hunt.

Legislative insiders who spoke to NHJournal on background said the likelihood of a deal was slim, though several said they weren’t ready to give up.

“It’s the ‘Princess Bride’ bill — it’s ‘mostly dead,'” one GOP legislator said.

Another source close to the process said, “There could be a light. A tiny one.”

And one of the bill’s supporters told NHJournal, “There are rumors that Bradley is willing to deal. If he is, something can happen. But most of us assume he put himself on the committee to make sure there isn’t a deal. I guess we’ll find out.”