To Smoke or Not to Smoke: Cannabis Legality in New Hampshire

Cannabis has a long and complex history of legality in the United States, and the state of New Hampshire is no exception. Like many other states, New Hampshire has seen a range of laws and policies regarding cannabis over the past century. 

From its initial criminalization in the 1930s to the partial decriminalization of possession in the 1960s, to the recent legalization of medical cannabis and proposed legalization of recreational cannabis, the history of cannabis in New Hampshire reflects changing attitudes towards drug policy and public health concerns. In this blog, we will explore the history of cannabis legality in New Hampshire and examine the various laws and policies that have shaped the state's approach to cannabis over the years.

Early Feelings on Cannabis

ban on cannabis in 1900s america

In the early 1900s, cannabis was not widely used or discussed in New Hampshire or the United States as a whole. However, as anti-immigrant sentiments grew and immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries began to settle in the U.S., negative attitudes towards cannabis became more prevalent.

In 1931, New Hampshire passed a law that made it illegal to cultivate any variety of the cannabis plant, including industrial hemp. This law was part of a broader trend in the United States towards the criminalization of cannabis in the early 20th century.

The law was titled "An Act to Prohibit the Growing of the Indian Hemp Plant or Cannabis Sativa in New Hampshire" and it made it a misdemeanor to cultivate or grow cannabis in the state. The law defined "cannabis sativa" broadly to include all parts of the plant, including the leaves, stems, and seeds.

The law did not distinguish between different varieties of the cannabis plant, such as hemp and marijuana. As a result, farmers who had previously grown hemp for industrial uses, such as for fiber and rope, were no longer allowed to do so.

The law also did not address the possession or use of cannabis, which were not criminalized until much later. However, by prohibiting cultivation, the law effectively prevented the legal use of cannabis in any form within the state.

New Hampshire was not the first state to criminalize cannabis cultivation, but its law was part of a broader trend in the United States towards the criminalization of cannabis in the early 20th century.

A Step in the Right Direction

cannabis legislation in new hampshire

In 1969, New Hampshire became one of the first states in the United States to partially decriminalize cannabis by passing a law that made possession of small amounts of cannabis a violation rather than a criminal offense. The law reduced the penalty for possession of up to one ounce of cannabis to a fine of up to $200, but possession of larger amounts was still a felony offense.

This law was a response to the changing attitudes towards cannabis in the United States at the time, as well as to concerns about the high cost of prosecuting and incarcerating people for minor drug offenses. It was also a recognition that many young people were using cannabis and that criminalizing them for it was not an effective way to address the issue.

Although the law did not fully legalize cannabis, it was a significant step towards a more permissive approach to cannabis policy in the state. The law did not apply to the sale or distribution of cannabis, which remained illegal, and it did not address the legal status of cannabis use or possession for medical purposes.

Over time, other states followed New Hampshire's lead in decriminalizing cannabis, and some went further by legalizing it for medical or recreational use.

Cannabis for All…Medical Patients

New Hampshire legalized medical cannabis in 2013. The law, titled the "Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Act," allows patients with qualifying medical conditions to use cannabis to alleviate their symptoms. The law established a system for licensed dispensaries to provide cannabis to qualified patients, and it established a registry of patients who are allowed to use medical cannabis.

To qualify for medical cannabis in New Hampshire, patients must have a qualifying medical condition and  have a recommendation from a qualifying healthcare provider. The law allows patients to possess up to two ounces of cannabis for therapeutic use, and it allows for the cultivation of up to three mature plants for patients who live more than 30 miles from a licensed dispensary. The law also includes provisions to protect patients and healthcare providers from arrest and prosecution for the use or recommendation of medical cannabis.


In 2019, the state legislature passed a bill that made several changes to the Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Act, including expanding the list of qualifying medical conditions and allowing for the use of medical cannabis in schools.

Under the updated law, patients with moderate to severe chronic pain are now eligible to use medical cannabis, and providers can recommend medical cannabis for any condition they believe would benefit from its use. The law also allows patients to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for therapeutic use and to grow up to six mature plants for personal use, subject to certain conditions.

Hope for Recreational Cannabis

recreational cannabis in new hampshire

Since the legalization of medical cannabis in New Hampshire, advocates and lawmakers alike have tried several times to pass legislation that would legalize recreational cannabis as well. 

In 2018 and 2021, the state House of Respresentatives passed a bill that would allow for the use of cannabis by all adults 21+, no medical prescription required. However, the bill died on the Senate floor. In most states looking to legalized recreational cannabis the state legislature seems to be the largest hurdle to jump over.

Most recently in February of 2023, the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Liquor Subcommittee approved an amended a recreational cannabis bill after weeks of discussions. New Hampshire will be the state to watch as its lawmakers continue to work towards full cannabis legalization in the state.

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