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New Hampshire Will Study the State Liquor Store Model for Legal Weed [FEATURE]

New Hampshire is one of seven states where alcohol sales take place through state-owned liquor stores (another 10 states feature a state monopoly on wholesale alcohol sales to private vendors), and now, it is embarking on a close look at applying that model to legal marijuana sales.

A state-operated liquor store in Utah. Could this be a model for marijuana sales? (Creative Commons/Tony Roberts)
That would be a first for legal weed. All the states that have legalized it so far rely on licensed private enterprises to supply the retail market, but there is no reason that has to be the only possible model for marijuana legalization and given its experience with the state liquor store system, New Hampshire is looking with great interest at using the same model for marijuana.

That is in large part because that is what Gov. Chris Sununu (R) wants. Sununu had for years been an opponent of marijuana legalization, and his threats of vetoes and actual vetoes (like this year) helped torpedo bills, but earlier this year, he declared that legalization is "inevitable" and signaled support for the state liquor store model.

"I’ve never been a big believer in terms of legalizing recreational marijuana, but the legislature is there," he said. "We’re surrounded by I think 1,000 miles by states who have done it. Not only would the bill pass to let it happen, it probably would pass with the ability to override my veto. Even though I might not like it, my responsibility is to set up a model that, long-term, is better than all the other states around us—that has the protections" through the state’s existing state-controlled liquor sales system," the governor said.

"With us controlling the retail on the marketing and the branding side, we would be able to control all that and we do it really well," he said. "Our New Hampshire liquor stores are ranked one of the top five retailers in the country. So we have a model that works. Other states don’t really have that, and so we can build off of that."

Legalization is "inevitable" and "it's going to happen," he added.

"So let’s provide it with protection," Sununu said. "There’ll be some revenue from it—but you should never be legalizing more drugs for revenue. That has ethical and moral problems wrapped all around it. Other states did that we’re not going down that path. So I think if they can do it, we can get it done."

Legislation he signed into law earlier this month, House Bill 611, sets the state on the path toward the state liquor store model. It establishes a commission to study how to implement that model with marijuana. The commission will include five senators and five House representatives, as well as representatives from Attorney General’s Office, the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, the New Hampshire Bankers Association, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New Hampshire Medical Society, and Communities for Alcohol and Drug-Free Youth.

The commission must report its findings by December 1, so that the legislature can move once the second half of the biennial session begins after the new year.

According to the bill text, "the commission shall study with the purpose of proposing legislation, the feasibility of establishing a state-controlled system to sell marijuana to adults 21 years and older that also: allows the state to control distribution and access, keeps marijuana away from kids and out of schools, controls the marketing and messaging of the sale of marijuana, prohibits  "marijuana miles "or the over-saturation of marijuana retail establishments, empowers municipalities to choose to limit or prohibit marijuana retail establishments, reduces instances of multi-drug use, and does not impose an additional tax so as to remain competitive."

Next year, New Hampshire could pioneer a new model for legal marijuana sales. After all, there's more than one way to sell a reefer. 

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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