Pubdate: Sun, 19 Jan 2014
Source: Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
Copyright: 2014 The Union Leader Corp.
Note: Out-of-state letters are seldom published.
Author: Shawne K. Wickham


Last week's historic vote by the New Hampshire House to legalize 
marijuana didn't fall into easy categories of party, geography or generation.

Some liberal Democrats voted against the measure, while conservative 
Republicans voted for it. Some of the youngest lawmakers voted "nay" 
while senior citizens said "yea."

Wednesday's 170-162 vote (click here for the roll call) was the first 
time any legislative chamber in the country has voted to legalize 
"personal use" of marijuana by adults 21 and older and establish a 
legal market for selling it, according to the Marijuana Policy 
Project, which supports such laws.

Colorado and Washington both legalized marijuana for recreational use 
through ballot initiatives.

House Bill 492 now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee, where 
it faces tough scrutiny before coming back for a final vote in the 
full House. And even supporters say the measure appears unlikely to 
get past the Senate or Gov. Maggie Hassan's promised veto.

Still, the reasons many House members gave for their votes last week 
seem to illustrate an evolving public policy debate.

Larry Gagne, R-Manchester, a retired U.S. Postal Service employee, 
started his career as a Manchester beat cop in the early 1970s. Back 
then, he said, possession of even a single marijuana seed was deemed 
manufacturing and subject to felony charges.

Gagne, a 69-year-old Navy veteran of the Vietnam War and lifetime 
member of the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of New 
Hampshire, said he always voted against relaxing marijuana laws in the past.

But this time, he said, "I did my own research." He studied what 
happened during Prohibition. "What it did was it made evil people rich."

Likewise, he said, "we've made billionaires out of cartels right now."

Gagne voted for HB 492.

He knows most in the law enforcement community oppose it. But he 
said, "I would like to take the bad guy out of the equation.

"If New Hampshire can have liquor stores by the side of the highways 
selling liquor to ... adults, then I see no problem with them 
regulating marijuana sales just as they do liquor sales and tobacco sales."

Tara Sad, 60, a Democrat from Walpole, said she has "always" voted to 
decriminalize (reduce current penalties) or legalize marijuana. But 
she voted against HB 492.

The problem was how the bill was drafted, she said, making the 
Department of Revenue Administration - not Health and Human Services 
or even Agriculture - responsible for regulating the drug. "What do 
they know about doing something like that?" she said.

"I was sick not to be able to vote for it, but I just couldn't ... 
vote for a bill that bad."

Sad also said she would rather wait a year and see what happens in 
Colorado. "It's going to be a good testing ground, and why should we 
reinvent the wheel that's already turning?"

Priscilla Lockwood, R-Canterbury, a 77-year-old retired high school 
teacher, voted for the bill.

"We're putting all these people in jail that we don't need to, so 
that was one issue," she said. "The other is that it's been around a 
long time and I haven't seen a lot of terrible harm from it."

She also considered the history of alcohol sales, from Prohibition to 
taxation. "All those things altogether seemed to make some sense to 
me. I'm a math teacher and I think logically."

Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, who said she worked "tirelessly" to pass 
the medical marijuana law last year, voted no. "I feel very strongly 
that we need to let that law go into effect and see how we're doing," she said.

Schlachman, 64, a retired occupational therapist, worries that full 
legalization could hurt the new medical marijuana program if there 
were ill effects. "That would be my concern, that we'd have a 
knee-jerk reaction in the other direction and say we don't want to 
let any of it be legal," she said.

"My vote was really based on my deep concern that we have it 
available to patients and doctors," she said. "And beyond that, I 
think it's too soon. We need to see what happens in other states."

Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, is an MIT graduate who lists her occupation 
as "capitalist" in a directory of elected officials. She voted for 
the marijuana bill.

"I believe the drug war has failed, and therefore, I'm in favor of 
deregulating many of our drugs," she said.

McGuire, 60, said the House Republican Alliance took no position on 
HB 492 because members did not agree. And when it came to the vote, 
she said, "on one side you had the law-and-order Republicans and the 
nanny-state Democrats, and on the other side you had the libertarian 
Republicans and the social freedom Democrats."

"And a few people who you weren't quite sure which group they fell 
in, they voted whichever way they felt like."

Charles Weed, D-Keene, a 70-year-old retired college professor who 
has previously sponsored decriminalization bills, voted "nay" in the 
final roll call on House Bill 492. But he said his opposition was to 
the process, not necessarily the proposal.

Weed voted against killing the bill the first time it came up for a 
vote Wednesday and then voted to reconsider it. But when the House 
voted to adopt an amendment that few members had read, he said, "the 
discussion had moved somewhere between chaos and anarchy."

"It seemed what we were doing was chaotic and illogical and it defies 
my sense of the responsibility of government," he said. "So from that 
point forward, I voted against it."

Weed also talked with Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, who chairs the House 
Ways and Means Committee, and her misgivings about the measure's 
reliance on DRA to regulate marijuana sales were "pretty convincing," he said.

"I want to end prohibition. I want the state to get out of this crazy 
illegality business and incarceration approach," Weed said. "But I 
believe it is the obligation of government to do a much better job 
when it's starting to make major changes to the culture and society...."

Almy, 67, who voted against HB 492, said it would require new state 
regulations to supervise and license growers, retail stores and 
testing laboratories. "It says DRA is going to do it, which in itself 
is absurd," she said.

Almy, a retired socio-economist, said there's also the question of 
how the state would "tax something that cannot go through the banks 
or the credit card companies."

"I think if a committee sat down and worked on it for a year or so 
that it would not be impossible," she said. "But I worry that it 
would cost us quite a lot of money up front for the year or two it 
would take to get it going."

Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, voted for the bill. "Our Constitution says 
that a punishment must fit the crime, must be proportionate."

And he said when it comes to marijuana, "The penalty is what's 
creating the harm."

Sapareto revealed that his 17-year-old son recently was arrested "for 
selling a pot brownie at school." His son was expelled and, instead 
of graduation and college, now faces trial on a felony drug sale 
charge, he said.

"He's a good kid and they're going to ruin his life for this," he 
said. "I don't think the smoke, if he smoked his entire life, could 
hurt him as much as what they're doing to him."

He said he's heard similar "horror stories" from other families. "I'm 
ashamed to say that we are guilty of harming and ruining people's 
lives far beyond the effects of the drug," he said.

"This is why we've got to fix it."

Sapareto expects the Senate will kill the bill - this time. But he 
also predicts "it's going to be law in four years."

Suzanne Smith, D-Hebron, voted for decriminalization in the past and 
said she supports legalizing pot and taxing it "in theory." But she 
voted against HB 492.

"I would like to see something in the legislation that speaks to 
money toward drug and alcohol abuse," she said. "To counteract the 
possible social repercussions of what's going to happen when 
marijuana is decriminalized."

Smith, a homeopath and nutritionist, also thinks New Hampshire should 
wait to see how the new Colorado law - and its own medical marijuana 
law - works before taking this step.

"It's too easy in this state where we are always short of money to 
look for the magic bullet," she said. "Just as I vote against casinos 
because I'm not sure if the ... risks and the benefits balance out, I 
don't think we're ready yet."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom