New Hampshire governor says marijuana legalization is ‘inevitable’, though he’s ‘not a big believer’ in idea

New Hampshire governor says marijuana legalization is ‘inevitable’, though he’s ‘not a big believer’ in idea

With a New Hampshire committee poised to propose a bill to legalize marijuana sales through a system of state-controlled stores by the end of this month, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said last week that reform is “inevitable” and said the state has a “chance to do it right.” ”

“We’re looking at that,” Sununu said, according to the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism’s website. “I’m not a big believer in the idea. I understand it’s inevitable. I think we have a chance to do it right.”

The governor was speaking at an event celebrating New Hampshire’s ranking at the top of the libertarian Cato Institute’s new report on “Freedom in the 50 States,” which takes into account more than 200 policy variables, from income taxes to labor regulations to rules on raw milk. Regarding cannabis policy, New Hampshire ranked 23rd in the middle of the pack.

Sununu said it was “interesting” that the Cato report focused more on flexibility in marijuana policy than flexibility on alcohol. “But look, that’s the way a lot of things work,” he added. “So there’s an opportunity to make sure it’s done right.”

Since 2016, the state has had a limited medical marijuana system, with only seven dispensaries statewide. Lawmakers have tried to legalize adult-use in recent years, with the House passing several bills that died in the Senate. Now, as a result of a legislative settlement earlier this year, a state commission has until the end of the month to report on how to legalize cannabis through a government-controlled system.

The study bill passed by lawmakers and signed by Sununu initially proposed a marijuana regulation that mirrors how New Hampshire handles alcohol sales, through a system of state-run convenience stores. But in September, committee members turned to considering an alternative franchise-style system, under which the state would regulate the industry and oversee its look and feel, while private licensees would handle farming and day-to-day retail sales.

While the committee is expected to recommend a bill to legalize marijuana during the next legislative session, the body’s meetings so far have highlighted the significant controversy that still surrounds the policy change. A number of committee members oppose marijuana use and legalization in general, with one member saying last week that the committee’s bill is shaping up to be “the most dangerous and irresponsible legislation I’ve ever been involved in” because it “will increase death (and) addiction.” “.

The committee is expected to issue an updated draft of the bill before its next meeting on November 27. Among the issues on which the group failed to reach consensus were penalties for public consumption of marijuana, rules regarding impaired driving and how to incorporate existing medical measures in the state. Marijuana dispensaries, known as alternative treatment centers (ATCs), will be integrated into a new regulatory scheme overseen by the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

New Hampshire, which recently eliminated the last remaining state tax on personal income, ranked first in the nation for economic freedom in the Cato report and second for financial and educational freedom. By comparison, the 23rd-place ranking for cannabis — which the report for some reason lumps in one section with sagebrush policies — is decidedly average.

At the top of Cato’s cannabis rankings were – in order – California, Maine, Alaska, Massachusetts, Arizona and Oregon. At the bottom of the list were Texas, Tennessee and Georgia.

The drug policies of the “Live Free or Die” state were generally absent in the eyes of the new Cato report. Other negatives she cited included state-run and regulated liquor stores as well as New Hampshire’s high taxes on tobacco products.

Colin Booth, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, questioned the Cato report’s definition of “freedom,” noting in his comments to that access to abortion was not taken into account at all in the state’s rankings. Last year, Sununu signed into law the state’s first abortion ban in modern history, eliminating the possibility of abortion at 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“The entire report is just encouragement for conservative policy,” Booth said.

A press release from Sununu’s office about the Cato Institute’s top honors did not mention marijuana.

Sununu has long been an opponent of marijuana legalization, but his position has softened since his re-election in 2022. He said during last year’s debate that reform “may be inevitable,” but added that states need to “be patient about how we do it.” He. She.”

Last May, the governor changed. A day after the state Senate rejected a marijuana legalization bill, Sununu announced that he would support an alternative proposal to enact legalization through a system of state-run convenience stores.

Under the law that established the New Hampshire Legalization Study Group, commissioners were tasked with studying the feasibility of a state-run cannabis model and drafting legislation that:

  1. It allows the state to control distribution and access
  2. Keep marijuana away from children and out of schools
  3. Controls the marketing and messaging of marijuana sales
  4. Prohibits “marijuana miles” or over-saturation of marijuana retail establishments
  5. Enables municipalities to choose to restrict or prohibit marijuana retail establishments
  6. Reduces the incidence of polydrug abuse
  7. It does not impose an additional tax to remain competitive

It’s not yet clear who will introduce the next legalization bill to the New Hampshire Legislature after the state commission issues its final recommended legislation.

Rep. John Hunt (R), the commissioner who chaired the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee this year, worked extensively on marijuana reform issues during the session and tried to reach a compromise to enact legislation through a tiered system that includes the state. Regulated stores, dual licensing of existing medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses specifically licensed to individuals by state agencies.

However, Hunt’s House committee deadlocked over the complex legislation, which was under consideration in the wake of Sununu’s surprise announcement of his support for state-run legislation. Meanwhile, a more traditional legalization bill, HB 639, was defeated in the Senate despite its bipartisan support.

The key committee legislation signed into law by the governor with provisions to study legalization would also remove the current requirement that pain patients first try opioid-based treatments before receiving a medical cannabis recommendation for their condition.

It also includes provisions clarifying that the state’s cannabis law is not intended to allow the sale of intoxicating products derived from hemp, such as delta-8 THC.

In May, the House separately rejected a different marijuana legalization amendment proposed as part of a Medicaid expansion bill.

Also, the Senate moved to introduce other legislation that month that would have allowed patients and designated caregivers to grow 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 the codification language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation — but that was also repealed in the opposite chamber.

Schumer says the marijuana banking bill needs more GOP support, but the Senate is “getting closer” to a vote

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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