The Republican governor of New Hampshire is defending his support for legalizing marijuana through a state-run model. While he usually prefers to let private businesses run markets rather than grow the size of the government, he believes that in this case it’s more appropriate to put the state in charge “because of the risks involved” with cannabis.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R) was pressed on his position by cannabis lobbyist Don Murphy on Wednesday ahead of the New Hampshire primary election, stating that while he’s “usually not there” on embracing state control, he feels cannabis can be more effectively regulated with government-operated shops, rather than private businesses.
With the state-run model, Sununu said officials could mitigate risks associated with “locations, marketing and influence on children,” according to audio of the exchange that Murphy shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment.
“I believe that we have a model that allows it to be available, allows the market for adults who want it and keeps it out of the hands of kids better than anyone,” the governor said, adding that he believes neighboring Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont have “awful systems” for marijuana sales.
“You have these marijuana miles. You have pot shops on every corner. We don’t want that here,” Sununu told Murphy, who lobbies for the Marijuana Leadership Campaign. “We want to make it available, but controlled. That’s it. That’s what people want.”
Sununu went on to say that “ever other governor will tell you that their system sucks.”
“Every governor has told me that. They hate their systems,” he said. “They want to maybe legalize it, but they hate the way it’s been done because it’s mostly been driven by ballot initiatives where you have, basically Big Tobacco—Big Marijuana 2.0—driving the rules and regulations.”
Sununu’s support for state-run marijuana legalization is a relatively recent development, as he’d previously opposed the reform altogether but came out in favor of the novel regulatory model last year after reaching the conclusion that it is “inevitable.”
Lawmakers in the Live Free or Die State have since debated a mix of bills to establish a regulated cannabis market, but they’ve yet to reach consensus on the path forward.
A legislative cannabis commission that was formed under legislation that Sununu signed last August held a series of meetings to discuss the state-run proposals, but members failed to agree on a plan “because of a large number of unresolved issues.”
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Rep. John Hunt (R), chair of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, has worked extensively on marijuana reform issues during the past 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.
Hunt’s panel, however, reached an impasse on the complex legislation. The committee held another hearing on legalization legislation on Wednesday, but it’s unclear whether members will be better positioned to advance the issue to the governor’s desk this year. The House has approved legalization bills multiple times over the years, only to have every effort die in the Senate.
That said, New Hampshire lawmakers have pre-filed a dozen marijuana-related bills for the 2024 legislative session, including measures to legalize the cannabis for adults, annul prior convictions, expand the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical program as well as increase possession limits and allow home cultivation for patients and caregivers.
Meanwhile, last year the Senate defeated a more conventional legalization bill, HB 639, despite its bipartisan House support.
Last May, the House defeated a different marijuana legalization amendment that was being proposed as part of a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate that same month moved to table an earlier version of Thomas’s home cultivation legislation.
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.
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