By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The day after the Senate killed a major bill to legalize recreational marijuana for adults, Gov. Chris Sununu issued a surprise news release Friday saying he supports legalization in the “right way” and outlined a path that could make it happen this session.
On a 14-10 mostly Republican vote Thursday, the Senate killed House Bill 639 FN-A that would have set up a legal framework for the sale of marijuana like those in 21 other states, regulating and taxing it at 12.5 percent. The House already passed the bill sponsored by Rep. Jason Osborne, R-Auburn.
While the vote was primarily along partisan lines, Republican Sen. Keith Murphy, R-Manchester, voted to support the bill while Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, opposed it.
It looked like the end of the road for supporters of legalization efforts this session until Sununu’s announcement Friday.
“I am supportive of legalizing marijuana in the right way — with this legislature — rather than risk a poorly thought out framework that inevitably could pass under future governors or legislatures,” Sununu said in Friday’s release.
Before then, he had left the door open, saying he has never seen a bill legalizing marijuana come to his desk. They usually get stopped in the Senate.
His release outlined what such a bill must include for him to sign it:
- Allows the state to control distribution and access
- Keeps marijuana away from kids & schools
- Controls the marketing and messaging
- Prohibits marijuana miles
- Empowers towns to keep out if they choose
- Reduces access to poly-drugs
- Keeps it tax free to undercut the cartels who continue to drive NH’s illicit drug market”
“Should the legislature pass future legalization bills without these provisions in place, they will be vetoed. This is the best path forward for our state, and I stand ready and willing to work with the legislature so that we can deliver a legalization bill that is smart, sustainable, and retains the fabric and culture of our state,” Sununu wrote.
Rep. Osborne, said on Friday the Senate could still re-write House Bill 360 to meet the requirements set out by Sununu.
Osborne said, “It looks like the governor read my recent article in the Union Leader. I’m glad to see him weigh in with his support.”
Osborne said the Senate may have killed his bill “to stick it to me.”
House Bill 360, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Verville, R-Deerfeld, would be a perfect bill to replace with whatever the governor wants because it simply legalizes the adult use of marijuana, Osborne said.
“They could do it if the Senate wanted to. There are 24 of them and they all want different things,” Osborne said.
Osborne said, “The governor is signaling he wants it done now and not kick the can down the road.”
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Carson has been outspoken in her opposition to legalizing marijuana.
House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, released the following statement:
“As is often the case, Governor Sununu is a day late and a dollar short. While I appreciate the Governor’s willingness to finally engage on cannabis legalization, he conveniently waited until the day after legislation was defeated to weigh in with a post on Medium.
“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. 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,” Wilhelm said.
Sununu said he has never vetoed a bill to legalize marijuana.
“In 2017, I was proud to be the first governor in New Hampshire history to sign legislation decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana so that no one would go to jail for simple possession. We expanded access to medical marijuana and provided a pathway to annul old convictions for marijuana possession,” Sununu said.
New Hampshire is the only state in New England where recreational use is not legal.
“Knowing that a majority of our residents support legalization, it is reasonable to assume change is inevitable. 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 drivers seat, focusing on harm reduction – not profits,” Sununu said.
“Similar to our Liquor sales, 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,” he said.
Sununu said it is important to avoid marijuana miles – the term for densely concentrated marijuana shops within one city or town.
“Any city or town that wants to ban shops should be free to do so. The state would not impose any taxes, and should control all messaging, avoiding billboards, commercials, and digital ads that bombard kids on a daily basis,” Sununu said.
He also cited the dangers of purchasing drugs on the black market.
“Marijuana and other drugs on the black market are being laced with fentanyl, posing significant risks to our citizens. By regulating the sale of marijuana in New Hampshire, the state will ensure our citizens are in a safer place,” Sununu said.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair hair Ray Buckley said: “This move by Sununu ranks with the most blatant and crass political games this Governor has ever played. His sudden show of support for marijuana legalization is nothing more than political posturing, given that he waited until the Senate had already voted down the latest proposal. His last-minute grandstanding does not change the fact that he has not been proactive in driving policy that reflects the will of the majority of New Hampshire residents.”
Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, and Assistant Democratic Leader Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, stated, “It is without question that Governor Sununu’s statements this morning are the definition of a day late and a dollar short. For years, Granite Staters with their Live Free or Die license plates have continued to drive across the borders of our state to purchase safe and legal cannabis from other states. It is disappointing that the Governor could not work with the Legislature, let alone his own party, to advocate for legalizing cannabis until after the Senate had already killed a bill that could have been the path forward on legalization.”