When Republicans gained control of the New Hampshire House and Senate in November, some libertarians hailed this as a win for personal freedom. Senate Republicans will have an important opportunity to prove that impression right — or wrong — when they vote on HB 350, a bill that would allow limited home cultivation of medical cannabis.
New Hampshire’s medical cannabis law passed in 2013 with strong bipartisan support, but cultivation remains a felony offense in the so-called “Live Free or Die” state. Since medical cannabis is not covered by health insurance, patients who are on fixed incomes struggle to afford it. And since there are only a few dispensaries in the state, accessibility remains a major obstacle for patients who live in remote areas.
All three neighboring states have legalized home cultivation — not only for registered patients, but for any adult 21 and older — but in “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, growing small amounts of cannabis is still a crime even for patients who are suffering from serious medical conditions.
To be fair, members of both parties are to blame for this authoritarian policy, including two Democratic former governors. In 2012, then-Governor John Lynch (D) vetoed a medical cannabis home cultivation bill that had been approved by the GOP-controlled legislature. In the following year, then-Governor Maggie Hassan (D) insisted that the Senate remove home cultivation from the medical cannabis bill before she would agree to sign it.
More recently, Republican Governor Chris Sununu vetoed a medical cannabis home cultivation bill in 2019. The House voted to override his veto, but the effort fell three votes short in the Senate when three Manchester-area Democrats joined all but two Republicans in voting to sustain the veto.
There’s plenty of blame to go around on this issue, but most patients are tired of the blame game. They just want to be able to grow their own cannabis without fear that a New Hampshire police officer will arrest them and take them to jail. Fortunately for them, legislators are trying, yet again, to pass a medical cannabis home grow bill in 2021.
Sponsored by Rep. Dennis Acton (R-Fremont) and the House’s Democratic leader, Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), HB 350 would allow possession of up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings for each registered patient. This bill passed 20-1 in the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee, and it passed the full House without opposition.
The bill’s fate now rests with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which is chaired by a former supporter of home cultivation, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro). In 2012, Bradley voted for the home cultivation bill and spoke in favor on the Senate floor, but in 2019 and 2020 he voted against home cultivation bills as a member of this committee.
Another key Republican on the committee, Sen. Kevin Avard (R-Nashua), is also a former supporter of home cultivation. He voted for the 2012 bill as a member of the House, but as a senator in 2017, he did not support home cultivation.
At the Senate committee hearing on HB 350, all three of New Hampshire’s medical cannabis dispensaries joined the chorus of support from patients and advocates. The only voice of opposition was from a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Bedford Police Chief John Bryfonski.
Patients and their families are hoping these senators and Gov. Sununu will make the right decision and support passage of HB 350. If they understand that patients are relying on cannabis as an alternative to opioids and other potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals, they will make the right choice.
If they care more about the needs of patients than the preferences of a police chief, they will make the right choice.
If they actually believe in the state’s “Live Free or Die” motto, they will make the right choice.
And, if they make the wrong choice, patients and voters will know exactly who to blame.
Matt Simon is the Senior Legislative Analyst for Marijuana Policy Project.