Future Looks Bleak for Marijuana Bill

Future Looks Bleak for Marijuana Bill
Posted by CN Staff on March 25, 2008 at 06:24:17 PT
Source: Nashua Telegraph
Concord, NH -- By most accounts, a bill that would decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana in the state isn't going any further this session, despite the surprise vote of support in the House of Representatives last week.Gov. John Lynch already has come out on record against the legislation, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster, a Nashua Democrat, has said publicly that the measure (HB 1623) has virtually no chance to make it through his chamber.
Still, Nashua's two young sponsors of the bill – freshman Democratic Reps. Jeffrey Fontas and Andrew Edwards – can take some solace in the fact that their bill actually got as far as it did this session.Three years ago, a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession was handily rejected by the House 295-60, while last year a similar bill never made it out of committee. So last week's surprise 193-141 vote by the House represents quite the turnaround.Originally, the bill would have made possession of up to 1.25 ounces a violation punishable by a $200 fine rather than a criminal offense. Today, possession of any amount of marijuana is punishable by up to a year in the county jail and fines up to $2,000.The House Criminal Justice Committee voted 13-5 to recommend the House kill the bill, but an amended version of the bill that reduced the amount from 1.25 ounces to one-quarter of an ounce ultimately made it to the House floor last week for approval.Supporters argued – as we did in our original editorial on Jan. 24 – that a conviction for older teens can have a far-reaching impact on their young lives, making it difficult to obtain a college scholarship, a job, serve in the military or qualify for subsidized housing or welfare. They also maintained that the change in law would free up the police and the courts to concentrate on more serious crimes.Opponents generally argued that marijuana use can lead to more serious drugs and that the bill was the first step toward making marijuana legal in New Hampshire. Others argued that it would send the wrong message to teens.That was exactly the point made by Colin Manning, the governor's press secretary, right after the House vote."This sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire's young people about the very real dangers of drug use . . . If the bill were to reach the governor's desk, which seems very unlikely, the governor would veto it."To be fair, there is some merit to that argument. In theory, at least, a lesser punishment could embolden some teens to experiment with marijuana who might not otherwise do so. But the reality is that thousands of teens are smoking marijuana despite the more serious penalties in place around the country. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse in 2001 found that 20 percent of eighth-graders had tried marijuana at least once, a figure that jumped to 40 percent among 10th-graders and nearly 50 percent among high-school seniors.As mentioned in our previous editorial, we do not condone the recreational use of marijuana in any quantity, nor do we believe that passage of this bill would by definition lead to the eventual legalization of pot outright.But we do believe that the criminal record that accompanies these offenses is too steep a price to pay for what many times is little more than a youthful indiscretion. For us, that reality trumps the theoretical "wrong message" argument every time. Sidebar: Key PointsBackground: The House of Representatives voted last week to approve a bill that would make possession of a small amount of marijuana a violation in New Hampshire.Conclusion: Even if the bill doesn’t get any further, that’s quite an accomplishment for the two 20-something Nashua lawmakers who sponsored the measure. Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2008Copyright: 2008 Telegraph Publishing CompanyContact: letters nashuatelegraph.comWebsite: http://www.nashuatelegraph.comRelated Articles & Web Site:NH Common Sense House Right To Reduce Marijuana Penalties Vote Draws Fire
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on March 25, 2008 at 10:49:05 PT
Press Release From The Drug Policy Alliance
Students Get a Raw DealTuesday, March 25, 2008
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