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A plan to legalize marijuana is back on the table at the New Hampshire State House

Cannabis is displayed inside the Mountain Girl Cannabis store, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Rutland, Vt. Vermont's recreational retail marijuana market opens Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, with three stores doing business. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)
Lisa Rathke
A display inside the Mountain Girl Cannabis store in Rutland, Vermont. Vermont's recreational retail marijuana market opened in October 2022.

A late-breaking effort to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire this year goes before a key House committee Tuesday.

If it becomes law, the proposal would make New Hampshire the final New England state to allow recreational adult use of cannabis — a move that, polling indicates, most Granite Staters support. The latest draft legislation was crafted with a key audience in mind: Gov. Chris Sununu.

Sununu, a seemingly tireless promoter of New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” image, has been a persistent skeptic of cannabis legalization. But earlier this month, in a move that surprised many in Concord, he announced a new willingness to endorse legalization.

“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 driver's seat,” Sununu said.

The governor’s pronouncement — made a day after the state Senate killed a bipartisan legalization bill backed by the New Hampshire House — set this plan in motion.

“I just want to get this solved,” said Rep. John Hunt, a Republican from Rindge who sponsored the most recent legalization amendment. Hunt leads the House Commerce committee, which will hear the bill Tuesday.

Modeled largely on a plan lawmakers considered last year, this bill would charge the New Hampshire Liquor Commission with regulating and selling cannabis.

It would also permit adults to possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana, or 20 grams of “concentrated cannabis products,” like hashish and vape cartridges.

It would prohibit all public use of the drug, with violations punishable with fines up to $500.

The proposal would also ban cannabis billboards, and “mass market” advertising campaigns that could reach minors, including on social media. Under the bill, cities and towns would be empowered to ban or limit cannabis establishments.

When an earlier version of this plan came before lawmakers last year, Sununu said he supported it in concept; it cleared the House but failed in the Senate.

In a key difference from the previous proposal, this plan would allow New Hampshire's medical marijuana dispensaries to remain open — and, over time, transition into dual-license facilities that could sell both medical and recreational cannabis.

“This is a possible model,” said Matt Simon, of Prime Alternative Treatment Center, one of the state’s therapeutic cannabis providers.

Simon fought the bill lawmakers considered last year over how it handled medical cannabis. But this version, he said, “might work really well.”

The plan is expected to speed through the House, which has already endorsed several legalization bills this year. Clearing the Senate, however, could still be a tall order. That chamber has never approved a legalization bill and has already rejected several House-backed proposals this year.

Still, supporters of the proposal going before the House Commerce Committee this week said the votes could be there this time. Several newly seated Republican senators supported the proposal this latest legalization amendment was modeled on when they served in the New Hampshire House.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.