State-Run Dispensaries And The War On Homegrow In New Hampshire

“The whole state-run approach is something that’s been talked about on both sides of the aisle. … We’ve been over this before.”

We all felt kind of icky after publishing a short post about the latest developments in New Hampshire cannabis news last week. No harm no foul I guess, but it still felt necessary to do some kind of a follow-up with voices decrying Granite State Gov. Chris Sununu’s push to set up adult-use dispensaries there in a fashion similar to their state-run liquor stores.

Thanks to the people who responded to our requests on social media for opposition, and to a friend of my old pal who once served as one of New Hampshire’s 400 House members for breaking things down for me. I’ll hold back on quoting any of them by name until the somewhat out-of-the-blue legalization effort comes along further (lawmakers are currently “studying” a state-run option), but for now here’s some background to get heads up to speed.

What are NH cannabis advocates saying?

One informed resident and activist told me that while adult-use is in the headlines, since New Hampshire is now the lone state in New England without legal access, the fate of patients also hangs in the balance, as any upcoming legislation “actually could have an impact on the medical program.”

Specifically, people have been fighting for medical homegrow for patients there for years. A measure passed the house and senate in 2020 that would have allowed it, but was vetoed by Sununu. Democrats could have potentially overridden the block, but reportedly sold out in the final stretch.

Advocates and adversaries

Some of the state’s 10 million reps are patients themselves. Others hate the stuff. Many have their own idea of what legalization should look like. Or not look like. That many opinions can stir up clusterfucks on any issue, but especially around the Devil’s Lettuce. It doesn’t help that police chiefs and other prohibitionist officials have some of the biggest bullhorns as well as seats on critical commissions.

The biggest impediment of all may be the conservative GOP members on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who outnumber the two Dems on the body who faithfully fight for the leaf. In April, these Republicans rejected an omnibus bill that would have effectively legalized cannabis in a way similar to other states. One advocate told me, “As soon as I heard [the vote] was on 4/20, I knew they were not going to take this seriously. I don’t think there was a glimmer of hope.” But while they may dislike weed, those senators are now taking the lead from their leader in the corner office.

State-run pot shops

Even people who watch Granite State cannabis politics closely told me they were somewhat shocked by Sununu’s May 12 statement introducing a “long-term, sustainable solution for our state,” in which the gov wrote of his support “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.” Adding, “Should the legislature pass future legalization bills without [state-run] provisions in place, they will be vetoed.”

From the outside looking in, it seemed like the governor could have been fishing for national popularity points (albeit on his own stubborn terms) in the event that he was going to launch a presidential campaign. But insiders didn’t believe that was the case (it’s not, Sununu has not announced nor seems likely to), and instead say the prospect is even uglier, since it’s essentially bipartisan. 

“The whole state-run approach is something that’s been talked about on both sides of the aisle,” one advocate said, noting how Dems who challenged the incumbent in the last election went that route as well. “We’ve been over this before.”

The war on homegrow

Aside from the absurdity of a state-run dispensary program, what strikes me as particularly noteworthy is the utter reluctance to let patients or anyone else grow their own pot in the Live Free or Die state. As one person told me, “If we’re going to have state-run stores, let’s at least expunge [criminal] records and allow medical homegrow. … We have the ability to homebrew our own beer, but homegrow is still a nonstarter.”

The legislative session is over for now, but it’s expected that there will be another filing for medical homegrow, along with a likely formalized proposal for the state-run adult-use approach, in 2024.

“You can ride a motorcycle without a helmet here,” the advocate said. “A lot of the Live Free or Die and Island of Prohibition discussions are getting tired in this state.”