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After years of reluctance, Sununu says he'd now approve marijuana legalization in NH

Cannabis is displayed inside the Mountain Girl Cannabis store, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Rutland, Vt. Vermont's recreational retail marijuana market opens Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, with three stores doing business. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)
Lisa Rathke
Cannabis is displayed inside a store in Vermont, where the recreational retail marijuana market opened in October 2022. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not legalized marijuana for recreational use.

In a reversal from his long-standing position, Gov. Chris Sununu said Friday that he now supports legalizing recreational marijuana in New Hampshire, but only if it were to be tightly regulated and not subject to state tax.

In a press release issued one day after the state Senate rejected bipartisan legislation that would legalize marijuana, Sununu said he’s changed his mind on the issue, in part because of public polling that shows a majority of Granite Staters favor loosening prohibitions on marijuana sales. He also noted that New Hampshire is the only New England state that has not yet legalized recreational marijuana use.

“Knowing that a majority of our residents support legalization, it is reasonable to assume change is inevitable,” Sununu said. “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 New Hampshire in the driver’s seat, focusing on harm reduction  —  not profits.”

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The bill rejected by the Senate this week would have allowed adults to possess up to 4 oz. of marijuana, would tax it at 12.5% and would put the state Liquor Commission in charge of regulating it.

Sununu’s announcement Friday was not accompanied by specific legislation or a detailed regulatory framework. But he indicated that he wanted lawmakers to get to work on his idea promptly, despite the fact that a bipartisan effort to legalize marijuana had already failed to find success this legislative session, with no formal input from Sununu himself along the way.

The announcement of Sununu's change of heart on marijuana was largely greeted with silence from State House Republicans, while Democrats criticized Sununu as moving too late in his efforts to shape debate on the issue.

Democratic House Leader Matt Wilhelm, who co-sponsored legislation this year to legalize marijuana, said Sununu's proposal was "significantly different" than what lawmakers had considered over the previous four months.

"While I appreciate the governor’s willingness to finally engage on cannabis legalization, he conveniently waited until the day after legislation was defeated to weigh in," Wilhelm said in a written statement.

At the start of this legislative session, Sununu predicted marijuana legalization would not reach his desk.

“It's failed in the Senate repeatedly, in both Republican-held years and Democrat-held years,” the governor’s office said at the time. “With teen drug use and overdoses on the rise, it is not anticipated that the legislature will see this as a time to ignore the data and move it forward.”

New Hampshire decriminalized marijuana for personal use in 2017. Therapeutic cannabis has also been available to qualifying patients since 2016.

Updated: May 12, 2023 at 4:01 PM EDT
This story has been updated with efforts to reach legislative leaders for comment.
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