Pubdate: Sun, 1 Jun 2008
Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)
Copyright: 2008 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Ray Warren
Note: Ray Warren is a Virginia attorney and a former North Carolina 
Superior Court judge who served two terms in the North Carolina 
Legislature. He also is the director of state policies for the 
Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


My friends in New Hampshire say politics in Concord  sometimes baffles

No wonder. The state Senate, at the behest of its  Democratic
leadership and the Democratic governor,  recently thumbed its nose at
public opinion and sent a  strange message to young adults.

For a party in control of state government for the  first time since
1874, it was hardly a profile in  courage.

The Senate killed a sensible reform of New Hampshire's  anachronistic
marijuana possession law. But the end  came after a surprisingly long
journey through the  legislative process that demonstrated the courage
of  the citizen-based state House and the timidity of the
politician-based state Senate.

New Hampshire's marijuana possession law is among the  nation's
harshest, providing for a year in jail and a  $2,000 fine for
possession of a single marijuana  cigarette. That stands in contrast
to neighboring Maine  and 10 other states, where possession of small
quantities is punishable only by a fine.

Two Nashua-area House members, Reps. Jeff Fontas and  Andrew Edwards,
introduced a bill to move New Hampshire  in a less punitive direction.

Noting that conviction of a Class A misdemeanor carries  significant
collateral consequences for young adults --  including loss of student
financial aid and job  opportunities -- they proposed to make
possession of  small amounts of marijuana a violation punishable by a
fine alone, similar to other hotbeds of liberalism such  as Ohio and
North Carolina.

The political establishment in Concord, busily  attending
Chardonnay-fueled political fundraisers,  collectively gasped.

First, they tried to kill the reform bill in its  cradle. The House
Criminal Justice and Public Safety  Committee gave it an "inexpedient
to legislate"  recommendation, which usually assures quick death on
the House floor.

But after hearing from constituents organized by the  New Hampshire
Coalition for Common Sense, House members  passed a revised version of
the bill and sent it to the  Senate. The winning coalition included 40
  libertarian-minded Republicans.

Senators weren't amused to find the unexpectedly  healthy young
legislation on their doorstep. An even  more distressed Gov. John
Lynch called for speedy  euthanasia.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster duly promised the

wouldn't emerge from the Senate alive, lest Democrats  be tarred with
anything approaching common sense  regarding drug policy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the execution.  A Mason-Dixon
poll revealed that a majority of the  state's residents support a
reform measure even more  ambitious than the one then pending in the

By a 53 percent to 34 percent margin (with 13 percent  undecided),
voters supported making possession of up to  1 ounce of marijuana
subject to only a fine. The  amended bill that passed the House would
only have  eliminated jail time for a quarter ounce or less.

Despite this overwhelming voter support, the Senate  leadership
dutifully imposed its own death sentence. On  May 1, the Senate
carried out the sentence, without a  word of protest.

It would have been nice if at least one senator had  offered a fitting
eulogy for a good idea murdered by  spineless politicians.

The Senate's action presents some interesting paradoxes  for

They have now ensured that New Hampshire retains a  marijuana
possession law far more draconian than  red-state bastions such as
Nebraska and Mississippi.

And having stood up for civil unions and at least  agreeing to study
mandatory seat belts, they appear to  have lost their progressive zeal
over an issue far more  likely to affect middle-class families.

A 21-year-old New Hampshire college student will  continue to face a
long jail term, heavy fines, and  severe student aid and career
consequences for  possessing even a tiny amount of marijuana.

Lynch and his Senate allies are determined not to send  young adults
"the wrong message."

It's enough to drive one to drink -- which, it turns  out, isn't a bad
option in New Hampshire.

A college junior of legal age can rot in jail for a  year for
possessing a single joint. But if she decides  to drive to a bar, get
drunk to honor the governor's  "message" and drive home sloshed, the
penalties are far  lighter.

Non-aggravated drunk driving isn't a jailable offense  in New

Congratulations, Governor, message received.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake