New Hampshire Cannabis Commission Fails To Reach Agreement on Legalization Plan

A New Hampshire commission formed to create a cannabis legalization plan for the state held its final meeting this week but failed to produce any recommendations after months of deliberation. 

The 19-member commission convened this summer to consider a plan to legalize cannabis for adults under a program that would see retail sales of weed handled by state-run cannabis shops, similar to New Hampshire’s model for alcohol sales. But after months of discussions about a draft legislative proposal from Republican Senator Daryl Abbas, the commission ended its work on Monday without adopting the plan or issuing any recommendations.

Some members of the panel placed blame for the commission’s failure to reach a consensus on a proposal on Republican Governor John Sununu, who has opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana for years. Earlier this year, however, Sununu said he would consider a legalization plan that put the control of cannabis dispensaries in the hands of the state liquor commission, which would oversee shops run by franchisees selected by the state. The governor also threatened to reject any legislative plan that did not meet his specifications.

“The governor is open to discussing a franchisee-based system, but the success of such a model is in the details,” the governor’s office said in a written statement to local television news. “The governor has been clear that any system meets his outlined framework – or be met with a veto.”

Before the commission ended its work on Monday, Sununu added new conditions that he said would have to be met in order for him to approve a pot legalization plan. In addition to his previously stated requirements, the governor wanted a statewide limit of 15 cannabis retail shops and a ban on lobbying by and political contributions from the licensed cannabis industry.

Democratic Senator Becky Whitley, a member of the commission, criticized the governor for his demands, which came on the day of the panel’s final meeting.

“At the very last meeting, the last half-hour, now, all of the sudden, we’re considering things that flew in from the governor’s office last-minute?” said Whitley. “This is not how we legislate.”

While discussing the governor’s new conditions, the commission heard testimony from Paul Morisette, a New Hampshire resident who is a partner in Maine-based East Coast Cannabis, who said that the requested cap on cannabis retailers is not enough shops for the state.

“You are not going to collect the tax you are projecting in fifteen stores,” Morrisette told the commission in testimony cited by New Hampshire Public Radio. “You are setting up the liquor commission to fail.”

But a representative from the governor’s office said that Sununu is set on the 15-store limit.

“I can tell you from the point of view of the governor’s office, we are adamant about that number,” said David Mara, Sununu’s advisor on addiction and behavioral health.

The commission also heard from Frank Knaack of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who told the panel’s members that the governor’s requested ban on cannabis industry lobbying and political contributions is likely illegal.

“It’s definitely something of concern, something we haven’t seen before in other aspects of New Hampshire law,” said Knaack.

After the committee wrapped up its proceedings on Monday, Whitley cited Sununu’s late demands as the cause of the commission’s inability to find consensus after months of meetings.

“Disappointed but not surprised,” Whitley wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “@GovChrisSununu yet again interferes with legalization in NH. Setting up a responsible, regulated adult-use market for cannabis will recapture $$$ currently going to our neighboring states AND it’s what Granite Staters want.”

The failure of the commission to develop a cannabis legalization plan for New Hampshire, the only state in New England that has not ended the prohibition on weed, leaves the prospect for reform in the near future unclear. But even before Monday’s meeting, Republican Senator Tim Lang noted that any proposals adopted by the commission would be subject to further discussion in the legislature.

“This isn’t the end,” said Lang. “We are just getting to the beginning.”

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