NH Residents Heavily Support Cannabis Legalization Bill That Lawmakers Just Killed

June 21, 2024

A new poll shows that nearly two thirds of New Hampshire residents support legalizing marijuana, while nearly as many said they support a specific cannabis legalization bill, HB 1633, that House lawmakers voted on June 13 to reject.

“Support for legalizing marijuana for recreational use (65%) has fallen slightly since May 2023 (72%),” says the new Granite State Poll, from the University of New Hampshire’s States of Opinion Project, “largely driven by a fall in support among self-identified Independents (-12 percentage points) and Republicans (-8).”

As for the recently tabled legalization bill—which was just a few votes shy of advancing to the desk of Governor Chris Sununu (R), who had indicated he’d sign the reform—it had strong support among Democrats and independents, but it was favored by a minority of Republicans. Overall, 61 percent of poll respondents said they back the specific legislation, jut a few percentage points less than support for the general concept of legalization.

“Only 16% of Granite Staters say they have heard a lot about the details of the bill,” the survey noted, “45% had heard some about it, 28% have heard not that much, and 10% have heard nothing at all.”

Among the 1,060 participants who’d heard at least something about the bill, 72 percent of Democrats said they strongly or somewhat supported the legislation, as did 70 percent of independents. As for Republicans, 47 percent said they supported the bill, while 38 percent said they strongly or somewhat opposed it.

Among those who opposed HB 1633, 75 percent said it was because they “don’t want to legalize.” But 19 percent said it was because they “want to legalize in another way.”

For much of the legislative session, advocates and lawmakers cited a statistic that 70 percent of Granite Staters supported legalization. A poll from May 2023 showed 72 percent support, while one earlier in 2023 found 71 percent support.

In February 2022, meanwhile, 74 percent of residents said they supported legalization—close to a high of 75 percent in 2021. The current 65 percent level of support for legalization appears to be its lowest point since 2016.

But notably, opposition to cannabis legalization has also generally fallen over the past several years, with just under a fifth (19 percent) of those polled now saying they oppose the reform.

Along ideological lines rather than party split, the poll continued, “majorities of self-described socialists (97%) and progressives (95%) and most libertarians (76%), liberals (72%), and moderates (66%) support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but only 41% of conservatives agree.”

Among those who said in the latest survey that they opposed HB 1633, three-quarters (75 percent) said it was because they “don’t want to legalize recreational use of marijuana at all.” But 19 percent said it was because they “want to legalize recreational use of marijuana in another way.” Another 6 percent said they didn’t know or weren’t sure.

Whether to support or oppose what most lawmakers agreed was an imperfect proposal was a topic of heated debate ahead of the recent up-or-down House vote on a conference committee bill that was based largely on a Senate-amended version of the legislation.

Many in the House said their opposition was based on the plan to legalize through a state-controlled franchise model, which would have given the state unprecedented sway over retail stores and consumer prices. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Erica Layon (R), initially said she wouldn’t put her name on a franchise bill after it had been amended by the Senate, although she ultimately voted to approve the final version.

On June 13, after the Senate had passed the legislation, House Democrats tabled the measure—effectively killing it—which sparked accusations that politicians were using the issue to earn the party votes at the ballot box in November.

“The House’s refusal to stand with voters condemns cannabis consumers to continued criminalization—possibly for years.”

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for Marijuana Policy Project and a supporter of HB 1633, drew attention to the poll’s indication of majority support for the bill, especially among Democratic voters. She said the action by House Democrats failed to represent the will of the people.

“When the House snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last week, it failed to pass a bill with nearly 3:1 support,” O’Keefe wrote in an email to Marijuana Moment. “The House’s refusal to stand with voters condemns cannabis consumers to continued criminalization—possibly for years—and deprives the state of tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue.”

“The loudest voices—those who opposed HB 1633 based on the franchise model—were just that, the loudest,” she continued. “They were not representative of voters writ large.”

One reason some say the vote could be especially consequential is because Gov. Sununu is not seeking re-election, and his replacement could significantly impact the likelihood of reform during the next legislative session.

Two top Republican gubernatorial contenders, former United States Rep. Kelly Ayotte and former state Senator Chuck Morse, have already said they would oppose the reform if elected.

According to the new Granite State Poll, Ayotte appears to have a sizable lead, with 53 percent of likely GOP voters saying they have a favorable opinion of her and 24 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of Morse.

Democratic candidate Joyce Craig, a three-term mayor of Manchester whose last term ended in January, has said she’d support legalization. The poll found that 38 percent of likely Democratic voters thought favorably of Craig. Democratic competitor Cinde Warmington, a member of the state’s Executive Council, had a 35 percent favorability rating.

Lawmakers did just send two bills to the governor that would expand the state’s existing medical marijuana program.

As for Sununu, the poll found that 55 percent of New Hampshire residents approve of his job performance, while 42 percent disapprove.

Lawmakers did just send two bills to the governor that would expand the state’s existing medical marijuana program: one to allow doctors to recommend it for any condition they believe would be improved through cannabis use, and the other to expand the pool of health care professionals who can recommend the drug.

New Hampshire lawmakers worked extensively on marijuana reform issues last session and attempted to reach a compromise to enact legalization through a multi-tiered system that would include state-controlled shops, dual licensing for existing medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses privately licensed to individuals by state agencies. The legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation.

Bicameral lawmakers also convened the state commission tasked with studying legalization and proposing a path forward in 2023, though the group ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation.

The Senate defeated a more conventional House-passed legalization bill in 2023, HB 639, despite its bipartisan support.

In May 2023, the House defeated marijuana legalization language that was included in a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also moved to table another piece of legislation that would have allowed patients and designated caregivers to cultivate up to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings for personal therapeutic use.

After the Senate rejected reform bills in 2022, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation—but that was also struck down in the opposite chamber.

 


Photograph via Pxhere/Public Domain

This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

Ben Adlin

Ben is a writer and editor covering cannabis since 2011, including as a senior news editor for Leafly. He is currently senior editor at Marijuana Moment. He lives in Seattle.

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