NH Governor Says He’ll Only Sign Marijuana Legalization on His Terms

May 7, 2024

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

“I laid out the eight or 10 things that I’d like to see in that bill for it to get a signature on my desk,” he told local TV station WMUR in an interview that aired on May 5. “If they meet those stipulations, I’ll sign it. If they don’t, I won’t.”

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

“I just see that I do have a responsibility—I don’t have the luxury, I have more the responsibility—of saying, ‘Look, if we’re going to legalize this at some point—and do believe it’s inevitable—I have the responsibility of setting us up for the best long-term system that we possibly can,’” Sununu said.

Among the proposed changes, one would increase penalties for public consumption.

The legalization proposal passed out of the House in April, and is now before a Senate panel. In late April, opponents of the current version—including Senator Daryl Abbas (R) and Senate President Jeb Bradley (R)—unveiled amendments that would revise major portions of the proposal.

Among the proposed changes, one would increase penalties for public consumption, making second and subsequent offenses unspecified misdemeanors. That would expose people to jail time in addition to a criminal record, an outcome critics said undercut the very purpose of legalization. Other adjustments would shift the bill’s regulatory approach to a franchise system, under which the state’s Liquor Commission would oversee the look, feel and operations of the proposed 15 stores.

“I know there’s a few changes on the bill to be made,” Sununu told WMUR. “If the Senate makes those changes the way I’ve laid the guidelines to be, then I’d sign it.”

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Erica Layon (R), has warned the Senate panel that it shouldn’t assume that House lawmakers will sign off on any proposed changes, however.

“We need to be careful that we don’t take the House’s support for granted,” she said. “Given the fact that we need to agree between two bodies and also the person who signs the bill, there are a lot of constraints.”

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

“Legalization on his terms or not at all.”

As for federal rescheduling, the WMUR report says Sununu “doesn’t think this federal change will make much of a difference in the discussion at the state house.”

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

At the time the bill, HB 1633, passed out of the House, a representative from Sununu’s office said it wouldn’t fly in that form.

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

With only several months left in Sununu’s term, supporters of legalization are also weighing how the governor’s replacement would greet legalization. At least one possible successor, former US Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R)—one of a handful of gubernatorial candidates to have entered the race—said recently that she opposes legalizing marijuana for adults.

“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 was previously the state’s attorney general from 2004 to 2009.

As approved by the House, HB 1633 would allow 15 retail stores statewide and impose a 10 percent state charge on adult-use 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 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 the state commission tasked with studying legalization and proposing a path forward in 2023, though the group ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation.

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

In May 2023, the House rejected marijuana legalization language that was included in 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 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.



Photograph of Gov. Sununu by Gage Skidmore via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

Ben Adlin

Ben is a writer and editor covering cannabis since 2011, including as a senior news editor for Leafly. He is currently senior editor at Marijuana Moment. He lives in Seattle.

Disqus Comments Loading...