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Apr 14, 2017 12:15 PM

NH1 Newsmakers: State Senate GOP leader predicts 'we will pass' marijuana decriminalization


CONCORD – Bills to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana have passed through the New Hampshire House of Representatives eight times over the past decade. But they’ve been repeatedly shot in the state Senate.

But the state Senate majority leader says this year will be different.

Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro predicted on latest edition of NH1 Newsmakers that “I think when all’s said and done we will pass decriminalization and I think both sides, the advocates as well as law enforcement, will be able to live it.”

Last month a bill that would allow possession of less than an ounce of marijuana (HB 340) was overwhelming approved by a 318-36 vote last month in the state House of Representatives. Tuesday the process began in the Senate, as the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill.

Passage of the measure in the committee is considered likely. The two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bette Lasky, of Nashua, and Martha Hennessey, of Hanover, as well as Republican Harold French of Franklin, support the measure. All three introduced an amendment that made minor changes to the House bill.

Republican Sen. Sharon Carson of Londonderry, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Bill Gannon of Sandown, oppose the measure.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Bradley introduced an amendment to the bill that would lower the decriminalization level to half an ounce. Bradley teamed up with law enforcement leaders in putting together his amendment.

“I hope that the sponsors of the bill will work with law enforcement to address some of those concerns. That’s what I’m trying to do. I actually support decrim but I think it needs to be done in a way that there is least some level of buy in from law enforcement,” Bradley told NH1 News on Tuesday.

While he supports decriminalization efforts, the Majority Leader cautioned in his Newsmakers interview that “we have to be careful of the message that we send.”

“Marijuana is in fact for some individuals a gateway to much more dangerous drugs, as alcohol can be a gateway to heroin, to fentanyl, to life ending drugs like that,” Bradley explained.

State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn disagreed. The Democrat from the North Country, who joined Bradley in the Senate chamber for Thursday’s Newsmakers recording, said “I’m a school teacher and I’ve seen what marijuana is. It’s a gateway to losing college loans, lack of opportunity, a hard time getting a job, and prison. That’s what it is. We need to stop criminalizing our citizens.”

He added that “New Hampshire has the most severe marijuana laws in the region.”

Woodburn, who authored a bill to legalize marijuana that was defeated in the chamber, said the Granite State’s neighbors “are moving towards full legalization. We need to get with the program if we want to attract and keep young people in New Hampshire. We need a pathway and I think this is a first good step.”

Asked if he could live Bradley’s amendment if that’s what the Senate ultimately passes, top Democrat in the chamber said “I certainly going to work to create a majority that can get something passed and get something turned into law. I think the larger amount is fine with me but I’m willing to compromise to move the ball forward.”

If the bill makes it to the governor’s office, Gov. Chris Sununu seems inclined to sign it into law. He supported decriminalization during his campaign for governor last year. That’s a switch from the Republican governor’s predecessor, now U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, who opposed decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

WATCH/READ: Sen. Hassan tells NH1 News she has ‘real concerns’ over marijuana decriminalization

State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn record the latest edition of NH1 Newsmakers, at the Statehouse on April 13, 2017

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