House Votes To Relax Law for Marijuana 

House Votes To Relax Law for Marijuana 
Posted by CN Staff on March 19, 2008 at 07:03:30 PT
By Lauren R. Dorgan, Monitor Staff 
Source: Concord Monitor 
New Hampshire -- Smoke 'em if you . . . don't mind risking a violation on your record. A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana passed New Hampshire's House yesterday by a wide margin, eliciting whoops and scattered applause in the chamber. But the revelry might be short-lived: Gov. John Lynch's office promptly announced that he would veto the measure if it gets to him.
"This sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire's young people about the very real dangers of drug use," said spokesman Colin Manning."That is why Gov. Lynch joins with the House Criminal Justice Committee and law enforcement in opposing this bill. In the event that the bill reaches his desk, which seems unlikely, the governor will veto it." A pair of 20-something lawmakers - one Democrat, one Republican - made the case for the bill yesterday, arguing that current marijuana laws saddle teens with lifetime criminal records that make it harder for them to attend college because they're ineligible for federal financial aid. The House responded, first overturning the Criminal Justice Committee's recommendation against the bill and then backing the bill by a 193-141 vote. The bill would reduce the penalty for possessing a quarter ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation. The maximum punishment would be downgraded from a year in jail to a $200 fine. Supporter Rep. Jason Bedrick emphasized that marijuana would remain illegal under the bill. "The question today is not whether marijuana should be legal," said Bedrick, 24, a Windham Republican who is taking time off from religious school to serve in the House. "The question is whether a teenager making a stupid decision should face up to a year in prison and loss of all federal funding for college."The bill's prime sponsor, Nashua Democrat Jeffrey Fontas, said he was motivated by "one thing: the undeniable importance of a college education." Fontas, 21, is an undergraduate at Northeastern University. But Rep. John Tholl countered that making possession of marijuana a violation would lead to confusion, sending the message that possessing marijuana is "no worse than a speeding ticket" - although selling the drug or transporting it would still be a felony. "We don't need to send a mixed message to the people that it's okay to have a little bit, but you can't drive with it in a car and you can't give it to a friend," said Tholl, a 64-year-old Republican from Whitefield. Tholl is a retired state police sergeant and the part-time police chief of Dalton. Twelve states have passed laws decriminalizing marijuana, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Most of those set the limit at an ounce or less and fine people who violate the law. The measure won an odd mix of support. In the morning, outspoken Manchester Republican Steve Vaillancourt handed out materials to passers-by in the hallway, asking, "Wanna smoke a joint?" (The materials: An annotated copy of a pro-legalization article by influential conservative William F. Buckley, titled "Free Weeds.") That wasn't the last time Buckley came up during yesterday's debate. Supporters of the measure handed out glossy brochures with his face on them, paired with that of former President Clinton. The bill prevailed with heavy Democratic support, but the measure split both parties: It got a yea from Democratic Floor Leader Dan Eaton but a nay from Majority Leader Mary Jane Wallner, a nay from GOP Deputy Leader David Hess but a yea from libertarian-leaning Republican Rep. Neal Kurk. Eaton, a former Stoddard police chief, praised the bill's backers for the work they did in getting it passed. "They phrased their arguments masterfully. If you are not a student, you are more than likely a parent or a grandparent," he said. "They were masterful at it, these are young kids, and I'm so proud of them I can't stand it." After the vote, Fontas stood outside in the hallway, taking handshakes and congratulations from veteran legislators. "It'll get killed in the Senate," warned Rep. Bette Lasky, a fellow Nashua Democrat. Although no senator has signed on to the bill - Fontas's co-sponsors were Reps. Andy Edwards and Charles Weed - Fontas said he's hopeful. "People said it would get killed in the House," he said. Eaton said predictions that the bill would die in the Senate may be premature. "Again, they're parents and grandparents," he said. "The knee-jerk reaction is to say that's DOA. These kids are impressive." Note: Bill would decriminalize quarter ounce.Source: Concord Monitor (NH)Author: Lauren R. Dorgan, Monitor Staff Published: March 19, 2008Copyright: 2008 Monitor Publishing CompanyContact: letters cmonitor.comWebsite: Related Articles & Web Site:NH Common Sense House OKs Marijuana Bill N.H. House Votes To Decriminalize Marijuana
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