Senate Republicans remain opposed to pot legalization

By RICK GREEN 

Keene Sentinel

Published: 01-06-2023 6:33 PM

Marijuana legalization, favored by many New Hampshire residents, was not on the legislative agenda state Senate Republicans rolled out in a news conference Wednesday after lawmakers began their annual session.

A bipartisan bill being drafted in the N.H. House would permit possession of up to 4 ounces of the drug, and state-licensed stores would be allowed to sell it. But the measure will die if not supported in the Republican-controlled Senate, where other legalization measures have been killed in recent years.

Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, told reporters he continues to support restrictions on recreational cannabis use.

“I know that there’s some people that probably want to see it legalized and there’s some like myself that have never wanted to legalize it and don’t intend to for reasons that I think are becoming increasingly clear in terms of safety, in terms of its impact on health,” he said.

After the news conference in the Legislative Office Building, Senate President Pro Tem James Gray, R-Rochester, said he also opposes legalization for recreational use, noting the drug is still illegal on the federal level. States that surround New Hampshire have legalized it.

“Our oath says that I’ll uphold the Constitution and laws of the state of New Hampshire, etcetera, etcetera,” he said. “If I’m ignoring one of the federal laws, am I fulfilling my oath?”

Other senators have also opposed marijuana legalization in the past, including Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester; Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry; Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford; and Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead.

Proponents say marijuana, used in moderation, is safe and that New Hampshire should join surrounding states in legalizing the substance and gaining revenue from its sale. Opponents say the drug can be harmful, particularly to children, and that legalization would allow greater proliferation of it.

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On May 4, the N.H. House passed legislation allowing possession of three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis, but it was rejected in the Senate a week later, 15-9.

A poll last year by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center showed two-thirds of Granite Staters supported separate legislation to legalize marijuana and allow its sale in state-controlled stores, similar to the way liquor is sold. That measure cleared the House by a slim margin but died in the Senate.

Sen. Donovan Fenton, D-Keene, said many of his constituents want to see marijuana legalized and added that he is co-sponsoring the bipartisan marijuana-legalization bill this session.

“On my campaign trail I don’t think I spoke to a single voter that was against legalizing marijuana,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I step foot in the state Senate and all of the sudden those are the first people I meet that are against legalization.”

Fenton served three terms in the N.H. House before being elected to succeed Jay Kahn, also a Keene Democrat, in the Senate last year.

He said he’s reserving hope that this could be the year the Senate approves a marijuana-legalization measure.

Even if both chambers pass such a bill, it’s not clear whether Republican Gov. Chris Sununu would sign it into law. He has expressed opposition to such legislation in the past.

Fenton said he also hopes the Senate passes legislation to encourage use of renewable energy in New Hampshire.

One of the items on the agenda Senate Republicans released Wednesday was “lowering electric rates by expanding the supply of new energy sources — traditional and renewable and expanding the use of net metering.”

Also on the list was an item in favor of “school choice,” the system by which the state pays part of the tuition for children to go to private schools. Opponents say this system dilutes support for public education, while advocates say it gives families of low income greater latitude in the type of education their kids receive.

Another item on the agenda was to “pass a Parental Bill of Rights so that parents always know what’s happening with their children at school.”

Last year, a so-called parental rights measure did not advance. It called for a lengthy series of school reporting requirements that proponents said would allow parents to be more involved in the education and socialization of their children.

Opponents said parents already have broad ability to be as involved as they want to be, and there was no reason to add cumbersome and time-consuming new rules.

Republicans hold a razor-thin majority in the House and a 14-10 edge in the Senate.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org. 

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