Pubdate: Tue, 19 Feb 2013
Source: Concord Monitor (NH)
Copyright: 2013 Monitor Publishing Company
Author: Sarah Palermo


State lawmakers filed bills promoting a wide range of marijuana 
legalization this session, bills that have received widely varying reactions.

At one end, a bill with broad support would allow people with certain 
chronic illnesses to use marijuana. At the other, a bill treats the 
cannabis plant like any cultivated vegetable or herb.

Gov. Maggie Hassan supports allowing regulated access to medical 
marijuana "with controlled and limited dispensing," but does not 
support legalization or decriminalization, according to her 
spokesman, Marc Goldberg.

Former governor John Lynch vetoed medical marijuana bills in 2009 and 2012.

The medical marijuana bill currently in the House Health, Human 
Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee has 14 sponsors: six 
Democrats and eight Republicans, including four senators.

The bill is due for its first hearing Thursday. It would allow 
patients with a professional diagnosis of cancer, glaucoma, HIV, 
AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, muscular dystrophy, Crohn's disease, 
Alzheimer's disease or multiple sclerosis to possess up to 2 ounces 
of marijuana.

The bill would also allow registered distributors to possess up to 
192 plants and seedlings plus 32 ounces of usable marijuana.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee heard six 
hours of testimony last Thursday on three bills that would loosen 
regulations on marijuana possession for all, not just those with 
certain medical needs.

Rep. Mark Warden, a Manchester Republican, seeks to erase all 
criminal penalties for marijuana possession from state law. It's a 
move he called "the tomatoes bill."

"It's a purist approach, because we're seeking to allow people to 
grow marijuana as they would tomatoes or roses in their backyard, and 
return the use of it to a personal choice," he said.

He doubts the criminal justice committee will recommend the bill, but 
noted a positive side effect.

"It does make some of the other bills look more palatable," he said, 
"but was not my intention at all. I wanted to have the conversation, 
the debate about cannabis and people's free choices."

In the middle, two bills seek different levels of relaxation of 
current laws and penalties.

Rep. Kyle Tasker, a Nottingham Republican, is the sole sponsor of a 
bill that would turn possession of an ounce or less of marijuana into 
a violation, instead of a crime.

It was a crime when he was arrested at age 17.

"Your world goes upside down, your plans for the future go upside 
down," he said.

"It was the first time I really quantified that your freedom is only 
as much as they want to give you," he said. "It doesn't matter how 
free you think you are, it's quantified by the government."

A $1,500 lawyer and a $600 fine later, "I didn't learn a whole lot 
except not to get caught," he said.

Now 28, he says the arrest is what spurred him into politics, with 
the goal of staying in office until the state eased prohibition.

"We've got high school kids with a criminal record indefinitely 
because they don't do enough to annul it. Everyone wants to do 
medical marijuana because you want to help the sick people," he said. 
"I'm just looking to carve out a little bubble for regular people 
possessing less than an ounce."

Under his bill, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana would 
result in a $100 fine, plus parental notification for a minor. A 
judge also would have the option of mandating a minor complete 
community service, a drug awareness program or both.

The fourth bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester 
Republican, legalizes possession of up to one ounce by people ages 21 
and older, creates a license to sell marijuana and proposes a tax on 
the sale of the drug.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee has been talking in 
recent years about the cost of the prison system and the high rate of 
recidivism, Warden said, calling Vaillancourt's bill "maybe a start 
of a different approach, an approach that is humane and tolerant and 
focused on education and rehabilitation rather than punishment."

Vaillancourt could not be reached for comment, but in a blog post 
Friday, he cited a poll showing more than half of New Hampshire 
residents support some type of decriminalization.

"We never like to legislate based on poll results, but it sure makes 
it easier when we can at last say that public opinion is on the side 
of legalization, and more so all the time," he wrote.

Vaillancourt also wrote that most law enforcement officials who 
testified Thursday disagree with the proposals. The New Hampshire 
Association of Chiefs of Police spoke against all three of the 
decriminalization bills, and the medical marijuana proposal.

"I still believe that it still kills brain cells. . . and we still 
believe that the use of marijuana is a gateway drug to more harsh 
drugs, cocaine and heroin and other stuff on the market," said David 
Cahill, chief of the Sunapee Police Department and legislative 
representative for the chiefs' association.

"I don't think there's any one of us who wouldn't say it probably 
helps people feel better and deal with pain, but it's not curing 
cancer, it's not curing arthritis, it's not curing any other 
disabilities. . . . We would support anything the FDA did case 
studies on and has findings that say it's good, it works, let's do 
it," he said. "That hasn't happened and there's reasons for that."
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