Pubdate: Thu, 14 Feb 2013
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2013 The Eagle-Tribune


Less Likely Decriminalization Proposals Would Pass

Supporters of medical marijuana legislation are hopeful state
lawmakers will approve the measure - and the new governor will follow.

Proponents know the legislation has a better chance of passing since
former Gov. John Lynch left office. The four-term Democratic governor
was a staunch opponent of marijuana legislation, vowing to veto any
bill that hit his desk.

Newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan said she's willing to consider
signing a marijuana medical bill into law, but opposes

Two recent polls show widespread public support for medical marijuana,
less for decriminalization.

Three decriminalization bills will be heard by a House panel today.
The bills either reduce or eliminate the penalty for possession of
small amounts of marijuana.

They will be considered by the House Criminal Justice and Public
Safety Committee at beginning 1 p.m. A hearing on the medical
marijuana legislation, House Bill 573, is scheduled for a week from

This won't be the first time marijuana legislation has appeared before
lawmakers. Similar bills were defeated in the Legislature in recent
years. One piece of decriminalization legislation survived a 162-161
vote in the House last year, but was killed in the Senate.

Rep. Kyle Tasker, R-Nottingham, is a little more optimistic this year.
Tasker has sponsored two of the three decriminalization bills, and is
confident at least one will pass.

He is the only sponsor of House Bill 621, which would lessen the
penalty imposed on anyone convicted of possessing less than an ounce
of marijuana. Instead of facing up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine
for the misdemeanor crime, he proposes it be reduced to a violation
with a fine of no more than $100.

Tasker said a young person convicted of using small amounts of
marijuana shouldn't be prevented from receiving financial aid for college.

"You can be doing something that hurts no one else and not be able to
get money for college," he said. "Stuff like that really sticks to you
for life."

Tasker, 28, admits to using marijuana in high school and college, but
said he does not now.

He said he believes there is enough support in both the Senate and
House for HB 621 to pass, and said it would not face an automatic veto
since Lynch is no longer governor.

"Gov. Lynch was a detriment to any marijuana reform," he

Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg said yesterday the governor opposes all
decriminalization legislation.

Tasker is not as confident about House Bill 337, which would drop all
criminal penalties for marijuana use and possession.

"I believe in that bill, but just don't see it happening this year,"
he said.

The third decriminalization bill, House Bill 492, legalizes the use of
up to 1 ounce of marijuana by anyone at least 21 years old.

The legislation also allows the licensing of marijuana wholesale,
retail, cultivation and testing facilities, and imposes a tax on its

The bills have received the support from pro-marijuana groups,
including the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy.

The coalition's executive director, Kirk McNeil, said he will attend
today's hearings in Concord to show support for the

McNeil called the penalties for marijuana use and possession "out of
whack" and, like Tasker, said a conviction for using a small amount
should not have a significant impact on a person's future.

"It should not stop someone from going to college or joining the armed
forces," he said.

But he's not optimistic about the decriminalization legislation,
saying it faces strong opposition from police unions and law
enforcement organizations, including the New Hampshire Association of
Chiefs of Police.

"Of the three (decriminalization bills) being considered, I don't
think they will have a chance of passing, " McNeil said. "I expect
medical marijuana will have a good chance of passing."

That's because Hassan supports the measure, McNeil said. Goldberg said
the governor would carefully consider such legislation.

"If appropriately regulated, with controlled and limited dispensing,
Gov. Hassan supports allowing access to medical marijuana for
patients," he said. "The governor will closely evaluate any measure
permitting the use of medically prescribed marijuana to ensure that
the method of distribution is safe and tightly regulated, and will
consult with relevant stakeholders, including the law enforcement and
medical communities."

Two polls show many New Hampshire residents support medical

The Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire
Survey Center, showed 79 percent of respondents support letting
doctors recommend marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses.

A second poll by Public Policy Polling showed 68 percent of the state
residents surveyed think the state should adopt a medical marijuana

In the Granite State Poll, just 48 percent supported legalizing
marijuana for recreational use.
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MAP posted-by: Matt