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Jun 5, 2015 6:19 PM

Landrigan: Long campaign to decriminalize pot collapses in Senate


CONCORD - After seven years of failure, the State Senate was on the verge of ending jail time for someone caught with a small amount of marijuana.

Despite the governor's stunning support for it, a bipartisan coalition fell apart.

All the stars seemed to be in line; Libertarian Republicans teaming with Democrats to end jail time for having up to a quarter ounce of pot.

The plan would make possession of up to a quarter ounce a $300 fine for the first offense.

Anyone under 18 could have to perform 35 hours of community service and complete a substance abuse education program.

"And that’s all this amendment does, is it loosens the laws just a bit," said Sen. David Pierce, D-Hanover.

Critics warned this would lead to New Hampshire making pot possession legal.

"We want New Hampshire to be like Colorado. You’ve got to be kidding me," said Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett.

As NH1 News first learned, Governor Maggie Hassan ended her long opposition to this idea and a few weeks ago began working with senators to forge consensus.

"Give people a second chance without potentially having a misdemeanor on their record. And I believe in the Live Free or Die State, that’s how we live free or die," said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, who helped broker the deal.

A move to kill the bill failed, 15-9.

Senate Finance Chairman Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, criticized senators who hours earlier voted for her budget that nearly doubles spending on substance abuse treatment.

"And you’re going to vote for something like this," Forrester declared.

A short time after that, Senate Republicans privately huddle and then come out nearly in lockstep to gut the bill.

They struck a provision meant to make sure a first-time offender would not lose a student loan or housing due to the violation.

Only one of 14 Senate Republicans, Deerfield Senator John Reagan, resisted that move.

The 13-11 vote making that change all but dashed hopes for any deal in 2015.

A leading advocate blames Hassan for the defeat

"If people want to understand why there wasn’t agreement, it’s very much because the executive office came very late in the process," said Matt Simon, New England director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

But her spokesman says Governor Hassan is disappointed that the compromise she and Senate Democrats reached with Senate Republicans fell through on the Senate floor.

Simon said despite the setback, the issue continues to gain political steam and he’s hopeful about a break through next year.


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