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Leaving the legal pot off the agenda: New Hampshire Senate Republicans put forward legislative plans

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CONCORD — Legalizing marijuana, favored by many New Hampshire residents, was not on the legislative agenda that state Senate Republicans put forward at a news conference Wednesday after lawmakers began their annual session.

A bipartisan bill being drafted at NH House would allow 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 it is not supported in the Republican-controlled Senate, where other legislative measures have been killed in recent years.

Senate President Jeb Bradley, R. Wolfeborough, told reporters he remains opposed to lifting penalties for recreational cannabis possession.

“I know there are some people who would probably like to see it legalized and there are some like me who have never wanted to legalize it and don’t intend to for reasons that I think are becoming increasingly apparent in terms of safety, in terms of the impact on health.”

After the press conference in the Legislative Office Building, Senate Pro Tim James Gray, R-Rochester, said he also opposes legalizing recreational use, noting that the drug remains illegal at the federal level. The states that surround New Hampshire have legalized it.

“Our oath says I will abide by the constitution, the laws of New Hampshire, etcetera,” he said. “If I ignore a federal law, am I keeping my oath?”

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

Supporters say marijuana, used in moderation, is safe and that New Hampshire should join neighboring states in legalizing the substance and earning revenue from its sale. Opponents say the drug can be harmful, especially to children, and that legalizing it would allow it to spread further.

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

A poll last year by the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center showed that two-thirds of Granite Staters support separate legislation to legalize marijuana and allow it to be sold in state-controlled stores, similar to how liquor is sold. This measure acquitted the House of Representatives by a narrow margin but he died in the Senate.

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

“During my campaign, I don’t think I spoke to a single voter who was against the legalization of marijuana,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I’ve set foot in the Senate and suddenly these are the first people I’ve met who are against rationing.”

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

He said he maintains hope that this will be the year the Senate approves the measure to legalize marijuana.

Even if both houses pass this bill, it’s not clear if Republican Gov. Chris Sununu will sign it into law. He has expressed his opposition to such legislation in the past.

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

One of the items on the agenda that Senate Republicans released on Wednesday was to “lower electricity rates by expanding the supply of new energy sources – both conventional and renewable and by expanding the use of net metering.”

Also on the list was an item in favor of School Choice, the system whereby the state pays a portion of tuition for children to go to private schools. Opponents say the system weakens support for public education, while advocates say it gives low-income families more latitude in the type of education their children receive.

Another item on the agenda was to “pass a parental rights charter so that parents always know what is happening to their children at school.”

In the past year, there has been no progress in the so-called parental rights measure. It called for a long series of school reporting requirements that proponents said would allow parents to be more involved in their children’s education and socialization.

Opponents said parents already have as wide a capacity to participate as they want, and there is no reason to add cumbersome and time-consuming new rules.

Republicans have a slim majority in the House of Representatives and 14-10 in the Senate.

Rick Green can be reached at rgreen@keenesentinel.com or 603-355-8567.

These articles are shared by the partners at The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit Coopativenh.org.

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