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Senate proves again they do not care about public or judicial opinion

By Hempology | March 26, 2008

Wed, 19 Mar 2008
Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
Tom Fahey


CONCORD – The New Hampshire House voted yesterday to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, ignoring advice from the House Criminal Justice Committee.

The action quickly drew a rare veto threat from Gov.  John Lynch.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster, D-Nashua, said the Senate will most likely kill it.

House Bill 1623 passed in an amended form by a vote of 193-141.  It makes possession of up to one-quarter ounce of marijuana a violation, punishable by a $200 fine.  The quantity involved is enough for about seven or eight marijuana joints.

Those who backed the bill said the penalties in current law are too harsh.  They include a $2,000 fine, jail time and the loss of eligibility for federal grants for college aid.

The Criminal Justice Committee recommended killing the bill by a 13-5 vote.  It now goes to the state Senate.

Rep.  Jason Bedrick, R-Windham, said the bill does not make marijuana completely legal.

“The question is not whether marijuana should be illegal.  The question is whether a teen being stupid should face up to a year in prison and a loss of all funding for college,” he said.  It is time New Hampshire joined 12 others states that have lowered the punishment for possessing small amounts of marijuana, he said.

Gov.  Lynch’s spokesman Colin Manning said the bill “sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire’s young people about the very real dangers of drug use.  That is why the governor joins the House Criminal Justice Committee and law enforcement in opposing this bill.  If the bill were to reach the governor’s desk, which seems very unlikely, he would veto it.”

“I don’t think he’s going to be seeing it,” Foster said.  “I know of no interest in the Senate on either side of the aisle to entertain that bill.”

The bill does not change the laws on sales or transport of marijuana in a car, a flaw critics pointed out in a failed attempt to defeat the bill.

Rep.  John Tholl, R-Whitefield, who is chief of police in Dalton, warned that giving some marijuana to a friend is considered a drug sale, a felony under current state law.  Transporting it in a car is still a misdemeanor.

“We don’t need to send a mixed message to people, to have them think it’s okay to have a little,” he said.  “They can’t give it away or have in it a car, because it’s a felony or misdemeanor.”

He worries that young people may be more likely to get caught up in drug trouble thinking that the reform runs through all laws on marijuana.

Stephen Arnold, past president of the 4,300-member N.H.  Police Association, said the bill “sends a horrible message to our young people.” He said the bill’s supporters exaggerate the effect current law has on young people’s lives.

“People aren’t going to jail for possession of marijuana, but they are paying fines,” he said.

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