New Hampshire

Gov. Sununu Pushes for Marijuana Legalization in NH After Senate Rejects Latest Bill

In the past, the Republican governor had said it was not the right time to legalize marijuana in the state

FILE— Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu addresses fans at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, July 18, 2021, in Loudon, N.H.
Charles Krupa/AP (File)

Gov. Chris Sununu issued a statement Friday expressing his support for the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Hampshire a day after the state Senate rejected the latest proposal.

"NH is the only state in New England where recreational use is not legal. Knowing that a majority of our residents support legalization, it is reasonable to assume change is inevitable. To ignore this reality would be shortsighted and harmful. That is why, with the right policy and framework in place, I stand ready to sign a legalization bill that puts the State of NH in the drivers seat, focusing on harm reduction  —  not profits," Sununu said. "Similar to our Liquor sales, this path helps to keep substances away from kids by ensuring the State of New Hampshire retains control of marketing, sales, and distribution  —  eliminating any need for additional taxes. As such, the bill that was defeated in NH this session was not the right path for our state."

But the governor also said New Hampshire must be sure to avoid "marijuana miles," the term for densely concentrated marijuana shops within one city or town. And he said any community that wants to ban shops should be free to do so.

"The state would not impose any taxes, and should control all messaging, avoiding billboards, commercials, and digital ads that bombard kids on a daily basis," Sununu said.

​The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday rejected a marijuana legalization bill. Republicans, who control the Senate, led the effort to dismiss the bill on a 14-10 vote. The bill, which had been approved by the House, would have put the state’s Liquor Commission in charge of regulating marijuana, with a 12.5% tax levied at the cultivation level.

Most of the tax revenue would have gone toward reducing the state’s pension liability and the state’s education trust fund, with some set aside for substance abuse prevention programs and police training.

Opponents have focused on the impact of the drug crisis on families, individuals and communities, and noted strong opposition from the law enforcement community.

Republican Senate President Jeb Bradley said the time isn’t right to legalize marijuana, as the state combats a drug addiction and overdose crisis.

“Recreationalizing marijuana at this critical juncture would send a confusing message, potentially exacerbating the already perilous drug landscape and placing more lives at risk,” he said in a written statement.

House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm said the push to legalize marijuana has strong support in New Hampshire. He said regulating the drug could also help protect public health.

“Every day that New Hampshire remains an island of prohibition, more voluntary tax revenue from our residents flows to surrounding states to fund programs and services benefitting their residents,” Wilhelm said in a press release.

Frank Knaack, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, faulted those senators who opposed the initiative.

“These lawmakers are willing to ignore the will of their own constituents and are okay with continuing to needlessly ensnare over a thousand people — disproportionately Black people — in New Hampshire’s criminal justice system every year,” he said.

In his statement Friday, Sununu said he supports legalizing marijuana "in the right way" -- through this Legislature, "rather than risk a poorly thought out framework that inevitably could pass under future governors or legislatures... This is the best path forward for our state, and I stand ready and willing to work with the legislature so that we can deliver a legalization bill that is smart, sustainable, and retains the fabric and culture of our state."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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