The Republican governor of New Hampshire announced signing an alternative proposal for marijuana legalization through a state-operated store system. This development hit the news barely a day after the New Hampshire Senate rejected a bill for the same purpose.
The outcome remains uncertain as the fate of the proposed legislation is currently undecided. In the previous session, the House had passed a bill to establish a state-regulated market under the supervision of the state Liquor Commission. However, the Senate rejected this bill, facing opposition even from prominent supporters of marijuana legalization.
Despite Senate President Jeb Bradley (R) expressing his belief that lawmakers should not prioritize adult-use marijuana reform, Governor Chris Sununu (R) has openly voiced his support for state-controlled cannabis sales. As the Senate rejected the traditional legalization proposal advocated earlier this week, renewed efforts to push forward a state-run bill are possible.
Governor Chris Sununu, who is considering a potential bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, issued a statement acknowledging his previous stance that New Hampshire was not prepared for marijuana reform. However, he has been compelled to reassess his position due to regional dynamics and shifting public opinion.
Sununu emphasized that New Hampshire is the only state in New England where the recreational use of marijuana remains illegal. Recognizing the majority support for legalization among residents, he stated that it is reasonable to anticipate inevitable change. According to the governor, neglecting this reality would demonstrate a lack of foresight and have detrimental consequences.
The governor asserted that he is prepared to endorse a legalization bill, provided the appropriate policy and structure are established. The aim of such legislation, he emphasized, would be to prioritize harm reduction rather than profits. In parallel with liquor sales, Sununu advocated for a state-regulated approach to prevent youth access to the substance by allowing New Hampshire to maintain control over distribution, marketing, and sales. He argued that this would remove the need for further taxation and stated that the previously rejected bill from this session was not the appropriate course for the state.
Sununu outlined measures he believes should be included in a marijuana legalization bill overseen by the state. These measures include granting local authority to cities to prohibit cannabis retailers from operating within their jurisdiction.
Additionally, Sununu stressed that marijuana sales should not be subject to taxes, similar to the state's regulation of liquor sales. He argued that this would help reduce the illicit market, which he described as particularly dangerous due to the abundance of fentanyl.
He stated that the state's regulation of marijuana sales would result in a safer environment for its citizens. According to him, this represents a viable, sustainable solution for New Hampshire over the long term. He expressed support for the legalization of marijuana, but only under the current legislative body, to avoid the possibility of an ill-conceived framework being passed under a different legislature or governor.
If the legislature passes future legalization bills without incorporating these provisions, they will be met with a veto. Sununu views this as the most favorable course of action for the state. He is eager to collaborate with the legislature to produce a legalization bill that is intelligent, enduring, and reflective of the state's essence and customs.
Sununu discussed his updated stance on marijuana in an interview on WMUR's "CloseUp" program, which aired on Friday, just before publishing his official statement. He remarked that he is ready for legalization at some point in the future. Sununu noted that the poll numbers indicate widespread support across the state. While acknowledging that legalization may be unavoidable to some extent, he advocated for a system that prioritizes harm reduction rather than financial gain.
House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R), the sponsor of the commercial legalization bill that the Senate rejected on Thursday, responded to the announcement. He suggested that the governor might have read his April op-ed in which he presented the "conservative case for cannabis reform." He expressed satisfaction that Sununu has now voiced support for the cause.
During an interview on Friday, Osbourne stated that if the Senate sent a state-run stores bill back to the House for concurrence, it could be passed this year. However, he expressed concerns that waiting until 2024 would likely be too late. Before the Senate voted against his legislation, the majority leader hinted that he might consider holding back the Senate's bills if it impeded marijuana reform once again, as it had done in previous sessions.
Subsequently, in a tweet after the Senate's decision, he stated that dishonest arguments supporting unpopular prohibitions foster resentment towards institutions and jeopardize societal harmony. Stakeholders and advocates have raised apprehensions regarding the viability of a state-controlled cannabis model and have shown a preference for a more traditional market similar to the one supported by the House majority and minority leaders.
Karen O'Keefe, the director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, expressed her optimism regarding Governor Sununu's recognition of the prevailing will of New Hampshire voters and his partial receptiveness to cannabis legalization. However, she voiced concerns about implementing state-run stores, emphasizing that they are likely expensive and can only be fully operationalized with a change in federal law.
She argued that such an approach would merely postpone the implementation of a proven regulatory model. Furthermore, she pointed out that Governor Sununu had intended to veto any alternative methods. Advocates would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to refine the bill's language and address his concerns effectively and functionally.
Cannabis legalization in New Hampshire has just undergone an unusual development. While the Senate rejected the standard legalization measure, Governor Chris Sununu has stated his support for a different strategy—state-run stores. This sudden change emphasizes how fluid marijuana legalization is and the power of shifting public opinion.
The governor's support for a state-run system and the Senate's rejection of the conventional legalization approach creates a rift that could lead to additional discussion and potential law modifications. Ultimately, it's still unclear whether or not New Hampshire will legalize marijuana and how the state will handle the challenges presented by this situation in the months and years to come.