New Hampshire’s governor will sign the marijuana legalization bill if the Senate makes changes, he says

New Hampshire’s governor will sign the marijuana legalization bill if the Senate makes changes, he says

With a House-passed marijuana legalization bill pending in the New Hampshire Senate, Governor Chris Sununu (R) is reiterating his warning that the proposal will only win approval if lawmakers adopt further changes to bring the plan into line bring his wishes.

“I listed the eight or 10 things I would like to see in that bill so that it would get a signature on my desk,” he told local TV station WMUR in an interview that aired Sunday. “If they meet those conditions, I will sign it. If they don’t do it, I won’t do it either.”

“Fundamentally, I don’t really like this idea,” the governor added, but said he sees legalization as “inevitable.”

“I just see that I have a responsibility – I don’t have the luxury, I have more of a responsibility – to say, ‘Look, if at some point we’re going to legalize this – and believe that it’s inevitable – then we have the responsibility to prepare for the best long-term system possible,” Sununu said.

The legalization proposal was passed by the House of Representatives a month ago and is now before a panel in the Senate. Late last month, opponents of the current version — including Sen. Daryl Abbas (R) and Senate President Jeb Bradley (R) — unveiled amendments that would revise large parts of the proposal.

One of the proposed changes would increase penalties for public consumption, making second and subsequent offenses unspecified crimes. That would expose people to prison time on top of a criminal record, an outcome that critics say undermines the purpose of legalization. Other changes would shift the bill’s regulatory approach to a franchise system, with the state Liquor Commission overseeing the appearance, appearance and operations of the fifteen stores.

“I know there are some changes that need to be made to the bill,” Sununu told WMUR. “If the Senate makes these changes the way I laid out the guidelines, then I would sign it.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erica Layon (R), has warned the Senate panel that it should not assume that lawmakers in the House of Representatives will sign off on the proposed changes.

“We must be careful not to take the support of the House of Representatives for granted,” she said. “Given that we have to reach an agreement between two agencies and also the person signing the bill, there are a lot of limitations.”

Layon also described the House-passed version of her bill as “a delicate tightrope walk that will get us where we need to be with perhaps the smallest changes.”

As for federal realignment, the WMUR report says Sununu “does not think this federal change will make much of a difference in the statehouse debate.”

“He says the path forward on this issue remains simple,” it said: “Legalization on his terms or not at all.”

When the bill, HB 1633, passed the House, a representative from Sununu’s office said it would not fly in that form.

“Governor Sununu has been crystal clear about the framework needed for a legalization bill to earn his support, focusing on limiting harm and keeping it out of the hands of children,” the governor’s office said. “The legislation passed today won’t get us there, but the governor looks forward to working with the Senate to see if we can get it done.”

With Sununu only months in office, legalization advocates are also wondering how the governor’s replacement would greet legalization. At least one potential successor, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) — one of the few gubernatorial candidates to enter the race — recently said she opposes the legalization of adult-use marijuana.

“I don’t think legalizing marijuana is the right direction for our state,” said Ayotte, who represented New Hampshire in the Senate from 2011 to 2017 and previously served as the state’s attorney general from 2004 to 2009.

As approved by the House of Representatives, HB 1633 would allow 15 stores statewide and impose a 10 percent state tax on adult purchases. Medical marijuana would be exempt from the tax. Retailers would be regulated through a so-called ‘agency store’ model, with significant restrictions on marketing and advertising.

Lawmakers worked extensively on marijuana reform last session, trying to reach a compromise to implement legalization through a multi-tiered system that would include state-controlled retail stores, dual licenses for existing medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses regulated by state agencies are privately licensed to individuals. The legislature ultimately reached an impasse regarding the complex legislation.

Bicameral lawmakers last year also convened the state committee charged with studying legalization and proposing a path forward, though the group ultimately failed to reach consensus or propose final legislation.

The Senate last year rejected a more conventionally passed legalization bill, HB 639, despite bipartisan support.

Last May, the House of Representatives rejected marijuana legalization language included in a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also moved that month to advance another piece of legislation that would allow patients and designated caregivers to grow up to three mature plants, three immature plants and twelve seedlings for personal therapeutic use.

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

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Photo by Aphiwat Chuangchoom.

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