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New Hampshire GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Says She Would Oppose Marijuana Legalization If Elected



Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R)— one of a handful of gubernatorial candidates in New Hampshire running this year to replace outgoing Gov. Chris Sununu (R)—said in a new interview that she opposes legalizing marijuana for adults, as a House-passed, Republican-led bill would do.

Speaking to local ABC affiliate WMUR, Ayotte replied in the negative when asked whether she would entertain the reform, claiming legalization would worsen the state’s fentanyl problem and lead to an epidemic of mental health conditions in young people.

“I don’t think legalizing marijuana is the right direction for our state,” said Ayotte, who represented New Hampshire in the Senate from 2011 to 2017 and was previously the state’s attorney general from 2004 to 2009.

The exchange occurred just days after lawmakers in New Hampshire’s Senate took up a bill from Rep. Erica Layon (R) that would legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis. Sununu, the current governor, has said he’s open the change, but not in the form passed by the House.

If the bill doesn’t become law this session, many expect the issue to be taken up in 2025, when a new governor will be in office.

“The issue of cannabis legalization: If they can’t get that done with this governor, is that something you would entertain at all?” WMUR political director Adam Sexton asked the former senator and AG.

No, Ayotte answered.

“As we think about our fentanyl crisis, I’m concerned about the impact of that,” she said. “Thinking about young people and mental health, there’s been studies have been have been done that show that smoking marijuana or ingesting cannabis, in the young ages of teenagers up to 25, have led to a greater incidence of bipolar, schizophrenia [and] other mental health issues.”

“Thinking about some of the mental health crisis that we have to address in this state, I don’t think this helps advance that cause or our quality of life,” Ayotte continued. “So I don’t support legalizing marijuana in the state.”

It’s not yet clear whether the legalization bill will make it to Sununu’s desk this year. Though it passed the House on a 239–136 vote earlier this month, both Sununu and the state’s Senate president are calling for changes that the bill’s sponsor has said may not fly in the House.

“We need to be careful that we don’t take the House’s support for granted,” Layon warned a Senate committee last week, warning some changes could cause House members to sour on the bill.

“Given the fact that we need to agree between two bodies and also the person who signs the bill, there are a lot of constraints,” the sponsor said, describing the House-passed version as “a delicate tightrope walk that will get us to where we need to be with perhaps the smallest of changes.”

As approved by the House, HB 1633 would allow 15 retail stores statewide and impose a 10 percent state charge on adult-use purchases. Medical marijuana would be exempt from the tax. Retailers would be regulated through a so-called “agency store” model, with significant restrictions on marketing and advertising.

Changes proposed at the recent Senate committee hearing by Sen. Daryl Abbas (R)—who led a state commission on legalization last year that failed at its charge of crafting legislation to legalize marijuana—would increase penalties for public consumption, making second and subsequent offenses unspecified misdemeanors. That would expose people jail time in addition to a criminal record, an outcome critics said undercut the very purpose of legalization.

Other adjustments in Abbas’s amendment would shift the bill’s regulatory approach to a franchise system, under which the state’s Liquor Commission would oversee the look, feel and operations of the 15 stores.

Sununu, for his part, has supported a state-run approach to marijuana legalization—similar to how New Hampshire has government-run liquor stores—but has indicated he’s willing to accept a franchise model.

Officials at the Liquor Commission have said it would be far less costly for private franchisees to build out a system of retail stores than to ask the Liquor Commission to take on that task itself.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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Lawmakers worked extensively on marijuana reform issues last session and attempted to reach a compromise to enact legalization 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. The legislature ultimately hit an impasse on the complex legislation.

Bicameral lawmakers also convened the state commission tasked with studying legalization and proposing a path forward last year, though the group ultimately failed to arrive at a consensus or propose final legislation.

The Senate defeated a more conventional House-passed legalization bill last year, HB 639, despite its bipartisan support.

Last May, the House defeated marijuana legalization language that was included in a Medicaid expansion bill. The Senate also 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 the 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.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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