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New Hampshire Governor Indicates He Won’t Sign House-Passed Marijuana Legalization Bill Unless Senate Makes Changes



Following the passage of a marijuana legalization bill on Thursday by New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) is signaling that he’s against the legislation in its current form but could still ultimately get on board if changes are made in the Senate.

The comments from the governor’s office came in response to the House’s 239–136 approval of HB 1633, sponsored by Rep. Erica Layon (R). The measure would legalize and regulate marijuana through state-licensed “agency stores,” but Sununu has said he wants to see a state-run or state-franchised model that would give the government control over the look and feel of each store as well as product prices.

“Governor Sununu has been crystal clear about the framework needed for a legalization bill to earn his support, focusing on harm reduction and keeping it out of kids’ hands,” his office said in a statement to local news outlet WMUR after Thursday’s vote. “The legislation passed today doesn’t get us there but the Governor looks forward to working with the Senate to see if we can get it done.”

Layon, the bill’s sponsor, said she’s repeatedly reached out to the Sununu’s office in recent months to discuss provisions of the proposal. But so far she’s been snubbed by the governor, even as his office communicates with other lawmakers about the bill.

“The bill that passed the House reflects the Governor’s guidelines as I understood them, until his last minute embrace of a franchise model,” she told Marijuana Moment on Friday. “I made dozens of attempts to meet with the Governor and his staff to get into the policy details, but the best meeting I achieved was a walk-and-talk with him through the halls of the Capitol.”

The situation has pitted Republicans against Republicans, with Layon and supporters at odds with Sununu and his allies in the Senate. Failure to reach agreement could threaten the legalization bill entirely despite what appears to be majority support for the policy change.


In a choice between the two competing models, a House subcommittee earlier this month rejected a sweeping amendment that would have replaced Layon’s plan with a franchise model. That amendment was offered by subcommittee vice chair Rep. Dan McGuire (R) despite him telling the panel he didn’t entirely agree with the proposed changes.

“We are told from the governor and from our contacts in the Senate that this is what they want: the franchise model,” he said at the time. “We are also told they will not vote for the version the House passed, and we are told that they are either unwilling or incapable of making significant changes in the Senate.”

Sununu’s latest comments suggest he believes the Senate can in fact make those changes.

But Layon now says adjustments backed by Senate Republicans like Sen. Daryl Abbas—who chaired a failed state commission on legalization late last year—may not find support in the House if an amended version of her bill makes it back to the chamber.

“Dozens of House members will not accept the language rejected by the House Finance committee,” she said.

“There is a real danger that the House may not accept what comes back from the Senate,” Layon added, “so I look forward to talking with my colleagues to ensure that anything we receive can pass without a Committee of Conference.”

Layon has spent months workshopping and building support for the plan despite warnings from some in the Senate—most notably Abbas—that her proposal will be dead on arrival unless it includes a state-run franchise system under which the government would control the look, feel and general operations of retail stores.

But House lawmakers have decided to stick with Layon’s approach.

Rep. Chuck Grassie (D) applauded Layon at an earlier subcommittee hearing for what what he called “a Herculean effort…to get the governor and the Senate on board.”

“If the Senate has problems with passing a bill, I don’t see why we have to do their hard work here for them,” Grassie said at the time. “I think they need to debate this. They need to make up their mind on a bill, and they need to send something back to us if we want to see cannabis legalization in the state of New Hampshire.”

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Layon has previously told Marijuana Moment that she never expected her proposal to be the only bill introduced this session to legalize marijuana.

“I initially intended that this bill sort of be a counterpoint to what the special committee was going to deliver and what Sen. Abbas was going to introduce,” she said. “The fact that he didn’t introduce it and this is the only shot at legalization this year, I just really wanted to work hard in a good faith effort to get to something that I was comfortable with and that match the requirements of the governor as best I understood them.”

The governor said at a recent event, meanwhile, that he thinks legalization is “inevitable” in New Hampshire, adding that policymakers have “seen the mistakes other states have made so as not to walk down that path.”

“People just want the accessibility for adults, keeping it away from kids,” Sununu said. “If they can meet those rough stipulations, I would sign it, because I think that’s one of the safest systems you’re going to get.”

He added that as a legalization skeptic, he’s better positioned to consider a thoughtful bill.

“There’s no better person to help design a system that could be fraught with problems and risk specifically to kids than the guy that’s most scared of it,” he said.

Last year Sununu said he supported a system of state-run retail stores, but lawmakers on a state study commission last year instead pivoted to the idea of a franchise system, which the governor has said he’s willing to entertain. 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.

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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