New Hampshire GOP Governor Reaffirms He’d Sign Marijuana Legalization Bill With State-Run Model Despite Personal Reservations

The Republican governor of New Hampshire has reaffirmed that he’d sign a bill to legalize marijuana, despite his personal reservations about the policy change, as long as it contained provisions including state control over the market.

Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said during an interview with WMUR that while there may be “some flexibility” with respect to part of his proposal that would ban cannabis businesses from lobbying the legislature, he remains committed to having a state-run model that he says would minimize potential harms.

“I don’t love the idea of legalizing cannabis here. I really don’t,” he said. “But knowing that it is probably inevitable, there’s a responsibility to getting the system right. Other states around us have got their systems very wrong.”

“I think we have an opportunity to really set a model here that works: limited stores, away from kids and schools, controlling the marketing aspects, not letting this free-for-all happen that you see in other states that have just made a mess,” Sununu said. “So if [lawmakers] stay in the guidelines, and they do this—while I don’t love it, boy, we could set ourselves up for a good, long-term sustainable system with minimal impacts to kids, and that’s really what I’m looking for.”

The House did approve a cannabis legalization bill last month, but it proposes a more conventional privately-run marijuana industry. Some senators have already pushed back on the legislation and called for a reform measure that more closely aligns with the governor’s proposal. That House bill also must go to another committee in the chamber, with a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, and then pass again on the floor before potentially being transmitted to the Senate.

Sununu said he’s been “been super clear on what I want to see, so if they put that in the bill, then I’ll sign it.”

“I’m pretty good about sticking to my word,” he said.

Another controversial component of the governor’s plan would bar marijuana retailer franchisees from lobbying lawmakers on the issue. Sununu said that policy is necessary because the businesses would fall under the control of the Liquor Commission, which itself is restricted from engaging in lobbying activity, so it would “keep some symmetry there as best we can.”

“This could be a very powerful lobby,” he said. “You don’t necessarily want that to dictate where this goes.”

However, he said that he’s “willing to take a look at some things,” acknowledging criticism that the policy would infringe upon the First Amendment rights of the businesses.

“That’s why I’m happy to take a look at it. We’re looking at the legality of that, so maybe there’s some flexibility there,” Sununu said. “But ultimately, I just want folks to know that we’re going to maintain this so there’s not some big lobbying power redirecting the entire course of a system that I think, if not controlled, could have some real negative impacts to our kids and communities.”

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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 a state commission tasked with studying legalization and proposing a path forward last year, though the group ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation.

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

Last May, the House separately defeated a different marijuana legalization amendment that was being proposed as part of a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also moved to table another piece of legislation that month 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 the 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.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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