marijuana decriminalization bill fails
The N.H. State Senate voted down a bill on May 1 that would have reduced possession of small quantities of marijuana to a violation level offense. The N.H. House passed HB 1623 in March, but the Senate Judiciary Committee roundly rejected the legislation in April and the full Senate voted it down shortly thereafter.
Sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Fontas (D-Nashua), HB 1623 would have reduced the offense of possessing up to a quarter-ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation punishable by a fine of no more than $200. Although the bill ultimately failed, some advocates feel it represented a big step toward marijuana reform in the state. Matt Simon, executive director of the N.H. Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, said he was not discouraged by the Senate’s vote.
“A strong majority of voters now understand that our marijuana laws were written for the 1970s and that they need to be updated for the 21st century,” Simon said in a release. “Through this process, I think we have demonstrated that a reform of this nature is both wise and inevitable.”
A phone pole conducted by Mason-Dixon Research on April 7 and 8 showed that a majority of New Hampshire voters support reduced penalties for marijuana possession. According to Common Sense, 53 percent of the 625 registered voters polled said they would support a change in law to make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by a fine of no more than a $100. Thirty-four percent of those polls said they would oppose such a change, while 13 percent said they were undecided.
Simon also cited the House’s 193-141 vote in support of HB 1623 as evidence that the state is progressing toward reduced marijuana penalties. Opponents of the bill, however, maintain that decriminalizing even small quantities of marijuana would send the wrong message.
local Dems join Dean at state convention
Former state Rep. Jackie Weatherspoon, of Exeter, will co-chair the N.H. Democratic Party’s 2008 State Convention on Saturday, May 17, appearing alongside Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Other featured guests will include U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, of Rochester, and Speaker of the House Terie Norelli, of Portsmouth.
The convention will take place at McLaughlin Middle School in Manchester on Saturday. Other speakers include Gov. John Lynch, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, Congressman Paul Hodes and N.H. Senate president Sylvia Larsen. State Democrats are hoping to reelect Lynch and help Shaheen defeat Republican John Sununu for a seat in the U.S. Senate. They are also hoping to help Shea-Porter fend off bids from former Congressman Jeb Bradley and former N.H. Health Commissioner John Stephen to retain her seat in Congress. Hodes faces challenges from Republican radio host Jennifer Horn and state Sen. Bob Clegg (R-Hudson).
Weatherspoon will co-chair the event along with Dr. Jay Buckey, who abandoned his own Senate campaign and put his support behind Shaheen this winter. Both co-chairs were excited to announce that Dean will address the convention. The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate has long been vocal about what he views as the failed policies of President Bush and Sen. John McCain.
“Chairman Dean will be a dynamic addition to what promises to be an exciting and monumental day for Democrats across the Granite State, as we gear up to bring the change that our country needs,” Weatherspoon said in a release.