The Republican governor of New Hampshire has signed a bill that will create a commission tasked with preparing legislation to legalize marijuana through a system of state-run stores—a novel regulatory model that he backed this year after concluding that legalization is “inevitable” in the state despite his broader concerns with the policy.
This comes about two months after bicameral and bipartisan lawmakers reached an agreement on the incremental commission legislation in a conference committee.
The bill that the conference committee took up initially only required a commission to study the novel state stores idea for cannabis, which Gov. Chris Sununu (R) only recently endorsed after historically opposing cannabis legalization.
But it was amended prior to final passage to include a mandate for the body to take its findings and draft a state-run legalization measure that legislators can consider when they reconvene for the second half of the two-year session in January. The commission’s work will be due December 1.
“New Hampshire has an opportunity to safely regulate the sale of marijuana with a model few others can provide,” Sununu said on Tuesday. “By establishing a commission to study state-controlled sales, this bill will bring stakeholders from across New Hampshire together to ensure that preventing negative impacts upon kids remains our number one priority.”
House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman John Hunt (R), who served as a conferee, has worked extensively on marijuana reform issues this year—including recent efforts to reach a compromise on legislation to enact legalization this year 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 reached an impasse on the complex legislation, which was being considered following Sununu’s surprise announcement that he backs state-run legalization and after the Senate defeated a more conventional, House-passed legalization bill from the chamber’s bipartisan leadership.
While Sununu doesn’t seem to have any doubts that his legalization proposal would sail through the legislature, recent history raises some questions about Senate lawmakers’ appetite for the kind of reform he’s promoting.
A bill to enact a state-run marijuana program did pass the New Hampshire House last year—but it was unanimously defeated in the Senate.
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Meanwhile, the underlying legislation that the governor signed into law with the legalization study commission provisions would also remove an existing requirement that pain patients try opioid-based treatments first before receiving a medical cannabis recommendation for their condition.
It also includes provisions to clarify that the state’s hemp law is not intended to authorize the sale of hemp-derived intoxicating products, such as delta-8 THC.
In May, the House separately defeated a different marijuana legalization amendment that was being proposed as part of a Medicaid expansion bill.
Also, the Senate 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.