Lawmakers Aiming To Legalize Pot

As usual, the finished fine print is coming out slowly for bills in part because the newly sworn-in lawmakers need to sign off on 995 pieces of legislation. As a result, the public hearings before House committees start slowly this week.

Still, it’s a safe bet the marijuana legislation in front of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday morning will spark plenty of debate.

A new group calling itself the Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy has started collecting signatures in favor of the bill (HB 92) through online petitions on its Web site: http://www.nhcommonsense.org/

“Despite the threat of severe penalties, many responsible, productive New Hampshire citizens continue to use marijuana. As long as these individuals do not harm others, we believe it is unwise and unjust to continue persecuting them as enemies of the state,” the group declares.

Matt Simon of Amherst, the group’s spokesman, said it had less than a week to prepare testimony in support, but will be ready.

“Six days isn’t much time, but the evidence is on our side, and I know we will be able to make a compelling case for the committee,” explained Simon.

“If the committee is willing to give this bill the serious consideration it merits, it will conclude that decriminalization is the only sensible solution to the slew of problems marijuana prohibition has created for New Hampshire.”

The group contends laws against the use of marijuana only increase the incidence of violence and property crime.

Leaders with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance (NHLA) are also expected to offer support.

The three authors are a rare bipartisan mix led by liberal Keene Democrat Chuck Weed, conservative Haverhill Republican Paul Ingbretson, and Manchester Republican Steve Vaillancourt, who at other times has been a Democratic and Libertarian lawmaker.

But supporters have their work cut out for them despite the Democratic takeover of both houses of the Legislature last November.

Similar proposals have failed badly in past years. In 2001, the House overwhelmingly defeated, 223-101, a move to make marijuana use legal and only for medicinal purposes for the terminally or seriously ill.

Attorney General Kelly Ayotte’s office has traditionally opposed the move and a spokesperson said that position remains the same. Lobbies for the local police chiefs and county sheriffs are expected to weigh in against the bill as well.

On other matters this week, House panels will hear of three attempts to place further restrictions on the state’s Right-to-Know law.

Belmont Republican Rep. John Thomas returns with his cause to permit members of public bodies to discuss issues of the day as long as they do not constitute a quorum.

Under this Thomas bill (HB 82), a quorum could engage in the same, private discussion as long as they reveal it at the next public meeting and don’t take final votes. A related bill (HB 83) makes secret the deliberations of the state Public Utilities Commission, state Board of Land and Tax Appeals, Site Evaluation Committee and Nuclear Decommissioning Finance Committee (HB 83)

Moultonborough Republican Rep. Betsy Patten wants to exempt the list of dog owners from the Right to Know Law (HB 71).

Hudson Republican Rep. Jordan Ulery will seek support today for a commission to study issues surrounding human trafficking (HB 35).

Exeter Republican Rep. Lee Quandt wants a panel to investigate the awarding of a state-selected adviser for state employee investments (HB 85). The resulting vendor, ING, recently agreed to pay investors $2.75 million for failing to disclose fee arrangements the firm got for steering business to preferred mutual funds.