Defying political expectations, House and Senate negotiators signed off on a deal to legalize recreational marijuana in New Hampshire, making the Granite State the last New England state to allow legal weed.

“I’m going to vote against it, but I am going to sign it,” Senate President Jeb Bradley, the upper chamber’s lead negotiator, told his House co-conferees after a deal was reached just hours before the general court’s deadline.

The contentious deal saw House negotiators acquiesce to regulations championed by Gov. Chris Sununu, including adopting a state-run franchise model, and limiting New Hampshire to 15 stores that would fall under the control of the state Liquor Commission. Senate negotiators also secured a 15 percent tax on all sales, while the House had originally approved a 10 percent tax — far lower than any neighboring state.

House negotiators did secure a few wins, however, including the addition of a marijuana industry representative to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, which holds rulemaking authority over the regulated marijuana market. Other updates include increasing the legal possession threshold from two-thirds of an ounce to a full ounce, and giving recreational store licensing preferences to New Hampshire businesses already operating as alternative treatment center dispensaries (ATCs).

“I want to be clear that I’m signing this with a lot of angst and I think some of my colleagues will feel the same way,” said House negotiator and state Rep. Anita Burrough (D-Glen). “But however, I think that it’s time we legalize cannabis and I think this is the right move.”

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) told NHJournal he’s concerned the negotiated legal possession limit of a single ounce could derail support once the House holds its final vote.

“I’d feel a lot better about the vote if it were two ounces,” Osborne said.

Osborne added the bill will help eliminate black market sales.

“It’s bad for a society to have a product that people use in the hands of a black market,” he said. “We want to take the marijuana industry away from the thugs and criminals and put it in the hands of responsible people.”

Asked if he would urge fence-sitting Republicans to vote yes, Osborne acknowledged the bill isn’t the one he wanted, but “It’s better to pass a bill, so yes.”

The law, if passed and signed by Sununu, would not go into effect until 2026. In May 2023, Sununu announced he’d sign off on a bill legalizing marijuana sales if the proposal featured several strict regulations, including state control over distribution and access, a cap on the number of retailers to “prohibit marijuana miles,” and tax-free sales to “undercut the cartels.”

Prior to the House’s rejection of the Senate’s amended regulation-heavy bill last month — which led to Thursday’s conference committee negotiations — Sununu said he’d sign off on the upper chamber’s version, which he described as “OK.”

Sununu has yet to indicate whether he’ll sign the version approved by negotiators.

Bradley, meanwhile, has been opposed to all legalization efforts. Following the House’s rejection, many legalization supporters told NHJournal on background they believed Bradley put himself on the Committee of Conference to ensure no deal was reached.

After the deal was done, Bradley told NHJournal “the people who said that weren’t paying attention.”

“While I’m not going to vote for it, I said that I would represent the will of the Senate and work to make the bill better. I keep my word,” he said.

Bradley acknowledged he wasn’t the biggest booster of the deal. He called the original House version “too wide open” and said it “had all the opportunity for black markets to continue, and the largest amount of legal marijuana — four ounces — legalized on day one.

“Even some supporters in the Senate didn’t think we should go there.”

Asked about his role at the negotiating table, Bradley did not mince words.

“I was probably the biggest pain in the a**, but as I said all along, if we’re going to legalize marijuana, I want the best bill possible,” he said.

After the deal was complete, Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action (SAM), issued a statement condemning New Hampshire for “succumb[ing] to the lie that more stoned people will help their states.”

“A state-operated commercial market, while not full-scale commercialization, still only serves the interest of Big Pot and its Big Tobacco, Alcohol, and Pharma investors,” Sabet claimed.

Former state Rep. Sue Homola (R-Hollis), chair of SAM New Hampshire, said the proposal will “make New Hampshire’s drug problems worse.”

“The primary job of all elected officials is to make laws that protect the public, but today New Hampshire legislators decided to abdicate this solemn responsibility,” Homola said.