Midterm Update: Marijuana Legalization in New Hampshire and Beyond


Amanda Pirani, News Editor

While marijuana has been decriminalized in New Hampshire since 2017, it remains a restricted, illegal drug with the exception of medical usage. New Hampshire is the only New England state which has not legalized recreational use. 

A poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center in Feb. 2022 found that more than two-thirds of Granite Staters support legislation that would allow marijuana sales via the state liquor commission. 

While two bills proposing legalization, House Bill 1598 and House Bill 629, were passed through the house last legislative session, both died in the New Hampshire Senate. Notably, the issue of legalization does not fall cleanly along party lines. While state Democrats are more likely to be in favor of legalization, both HB1598 and HB 629 were majority-Republican-sponsored bills. 

Three political bodies will impact the direction of marijuana restrictions (or lack thereof) in New Hampshire: the state house, the state senate and the governor’s office. All eyes are on the upcoming midterm election to determine the fate of legalization for the next legislative term.

Incumbent Governor Chris Sununu has historically been opposed to the legalization of marijuana. In 2019, Sununu vetoed a bill that would allow limited home growing for medical marijuana patients. However, last year, he described legalization as “inevitable” in New Hampshire. 

Sununu’s Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, Tom Sherman, is a staunch supporter of legalizing marijuana. 

“I’ve supported legalizing marijuana in the Senate & I would support legalization as governor. We’re surrounded by states who have legalized marijuana. It’s time to stop sending that revenue out of state, while disproportionately impacting communities of color in state,” Sherman said in a tweet last April

Ultimately, however, whether or not marijuana is legalized in the state is dependent on legislation first passing through an amicable State House and Senate. 

Federal legalization is similarly dependent on presidential support, but more importantly, a compliant House and Senate. NH candidates for U.S. Representative, Karoline Leavitt and Chris Pappas have both been quiet on the topic of legalization. Pappas has publicly stated that he supports legalization but was one of two Democrats to vote against federal decriminalization last spring. Leavitt has not publicly shared her position on federal or state legalization. 

Candidates for U.S. Senate Maggie Hassan and Don Bolduc have been similarly reluctant to speak on the topic. Bolduc and Hassan are both opposed to legalization, Hassan has been supportive of exceptions for medical marijuana patients. 

“My big problem with marijuana is that it could be an entry drug and a gateway for our children. And I don’t not want our children to be introduced to drugs. We have a big enough drug problem here,” said Bolduc in an interview with WMUR

As Governor, Hassan was firmly opposed to legalizing marijuana in NH. 

“But I don’t support the decriminalization of marijuana any further, and I would veto it if it comes to my desk,” commented Hassan after legalizing medical use in 2013. 

A Gallup poll in Nov. 2021 found that support for federal legalization is at an all-time high of 68%. However, at the national level, party affiliation plays a greater role in one’s stance on legalization. The poll found that while 83% of Democrats support legalization, Republicans are more closely divided at 50% in favor. 

The Biden administration recently granted pardons to anyone convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and expressed interest in reclassifying marijuana. The drug is currently under Schedule I of the federal drug code, which is intended for highly addictive drugs with no medical benefit. However, the president has long been opposed to federal legalization; a position which may have little relevance as long as Congress remains divided on the issue. A popular concern regarding legalization is that more research must be done into the drug’s health effects before further steps can be taken toward legalization. 

For students looking for more information on how to vote in the upcoming election on Nov. 8, 603 Forward offers information on their website. Students can also access more information on how to vote by checking out the University of New Hampshire Voting page.