A day after New Hampshire lawmakers rejected the latest attempt to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, Gov. Chris Sununu — a potential Republican presidential candidate — offered a similar way forward on Friday. how the state controls alcohol sales.
“In the past, I have 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 weed for recreational purposes.
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“Knowing that a majority of our residents support legalization, it’s reasonable to assume that change is inevitable,” Sununu said. “To ignore this reality would be short-sighted and damaging. That’s why, with the right policy and the right framework in place, I’m prepared to sign a legalization bill that puts the State of New Hampshire in the driver’s seat, by focusing on harm reduction – not benefit.”
He proposed that the state regulate recreational marijuana the same way it controls the sale of wine and spirits. Sununu said this pathway “helps keep substances away from children by ensuring the state of New Hampshire retains control of marketing, sales and distribution, eliminating any need for additional taxes.”
Sununu suggested the goal could be achieved 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 crop level.
As part of his plan, Sununu said New Hampshire should avoid “marijuana miles” or densely concentrated marijuana stores in one city or town. “Any city or town that wants to ban stores should be free to do so,” he said.
Sununu said marijuana and other black market drugs are mixed with fentanyl, which poses significant risks. “By regulating the sale of marijuana in New Hampshire, the state will ensure that our citizens are in a safer place,” he said.
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Although several bipartisan bills in favor of marijuana legalization have passed the House in recent years, the Senate has blocked them. After Thursday’s vote, Republican Senate Speaker Jeb Bradley said now is not the time to legalize marijuana as the state battles a drug abuse and overdose crisis.
Democratic House Leader Matt Wilhelm said the push to legalize marijuana is strongly supported in New Hampshire and while he appreciates Sununu’s willingness to engage in the legislation, the decision is “one day late and a dollar short”.
“The policy framework proposed by Governor Sununu today is very different from what has been debated in the House and Senate over the past four months,” Wilhelm said in a statement. “Despite Sununu’s sudden and calculated desire to raise his national profile on a popular issue, we will continue to approach cannabis legalization in the methodical and thoughtful way that Granite Staters deserves.”
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After facing intense pressure to run for the US Senate, Sununu shocked the political establishment by seeking re-election last year. But he did not rule out running for higher positions, including president, and built and maintained a high national profile.