A day after New Hampshire legislators rejected the latest attempt to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, Gov. Chris Sununu — a potential Republican presidential candidate — proposed a path forward Friday that is similar to how the state controls liquor sales.
“In the past, I said now is not the time to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire,” Sununu said in a statement.
New Hampshire is the only state in New England that makes it a crime to smoke pot recreationally.
“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.”
He proposed that the state regulate recreational marijuana in the same way it controls the sale of wine and spirits. Sununu said that 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.”
Sununu suggested that the goal could be accomplished this legislative session by amending a current bill. Legislative leaders did not immediately comment on his proposal.
The bill that was defeated in the state Senate on Thursday “was not the right path for our state,” Sununu said. It would have included a 12.5% tax levied at the cultivation level.
As part of his plan, Sununu said New Hampshire must avoid “marijuana miles,” or marijuana shops densely concentrated within one city or town. “Any city or town that wants to ban shops should be free to do so,” he said.
Sununu said marijuana and other drugs on the black market are being laced with fentanyl, posing significant risks. “By regulating the sale of marijuana in New Hampshire, the state will ensure our citizens are in a safer place,” he said.
Though several bipartisan bills in support of legalizing marijuana have cleared the House in recent years, the Senate has blocked them. Following Thursday’s vote, Republican Senate President Jeb Bradley said the time isn’t right to legalize marijuana, as the state combats a drug addiction and overdose crisis.
House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm said the push to legalize marijuana has strong support in New Hampshire and while he appreciates Sununu’s willingness to engage with legislation, the move is “a day late and a dollar short.”
“The policy framework proposed by Governor Sununu today is significantly different than what has been debated in the House and Senate over the past four months,” Wilhelm said in a statement. “Despite Sununu’s sudden, calculated desire to raise his national profile on a popular issue, we will continue approaching cannabis legalization through the methodical, thought-out way that Granite Staters deserve.”
After facing intense pressure to run for U.S. Senate, Sununu shocked the political establishment by seeking reelection last year, instead. But he hasn’t ruled out a run for higher office, including president, and has been building and maintaining a high profile nationally.