4/20 -- Sunday Poll Coverage!

Top statehouse reporters Tom Fahey and Kevin Landrigan covered HB 1623 in their Sunday columns and mentioned our favorable poll results. Here's Fahey's mention in the Union-Leader:

Edwards told us "the hardest thing for us has been the fact that the governor and majority leader wanted to end the conversation before it even started."

Marijuana Bill Debate

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will take up both a marijuana bill and one to study the death penalty.

Marijuana bill sponsors plan to backpedal a bit as a way to keep it alive.

The bill, HB 1623, passed the House on a 193-141 vote. It would set a $200 fine for possession of a quarter-ounce or less of marijuana. Current law calls for a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Reps. Jeffrey Fontas and Andrew Edwards will ask the committee to amend the bill so lower fines apply only in a first-time offense.

Gov. Lynch and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster both said the day the bill passed the House they'd block it from becoming law.

Edwards told us "the hardest thing for us has been the fact that the governor and majority leader wanted to end the conversation before it even started."

Fontas added, "We're just asking them to have the discussion."

Many of those supporting the bill say a young person should not be denied a college education for a mistake made early in life.

But a copy of federal law provided by the national Drug Free Schools Coalition shows punishment is not as harsh as some think. Students convicted of marijuana possession while on a federal grant or loan program lose eligibility for one year. They can requalify sooner if they complete a rehabilitation program.

The two lawmakers, both age 21, said a survey shows the public is on their side. A poll by Mason-Dixon Research for N.H. Common Sense found 53 percent support for a more liberal bill than HB 1623, imposing a $100 fine for up to an ounce of marijuana held for personal use.

Mason-Dixon found the lower fine had support of 63 percent of Democrats surveyed, 62 percent of those under 50, 58 percent of women and 54 percent of independent voters. The poll's margin of error was 4 percent.

Police, who oppose any liberalization of drug laws, say the maximum fine and jail time are rarely imposed against first-time offenders.

Death penalty opponents were heartened by a 15-1 vote in the House Criminal Justice Committee to advance a study of the state's death penalty laws.

The full House passed it without debate. Now it's the Senate's turn.

 

And here's Landrigan's coverage in the Telegraph:

 

Never give up

You have to hand it to the two youngest members of the Legislature. Reps. Andrew Edwards, D-Nashua, and Jeffrey Fontas, D-Nashua, don't give up easily.

They have already gone further than any observer possible with House passage of legislation to decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana (HB 1623).

And now they'll offer to make the bill more politically palatable during the bill's public hearing Tuesday with the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two will propose that the elimination of a prison option for this possession be reserved only for the first offense.

"This reinforces that we are talking about not making someone pay for a lifetime for a single mistake made early in life,'' Edwards said.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster, D-Nashua, Senate Leader Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, and Lynch have said they're opposed to the bill.

"We feel those statements were made before we had a chance to state our case," Fontas said. "We're willing to meet the Senate halfway, and think this amendment does that."

The add-on would cut the length of ineligibility for future college aid upon a first-time drug conviction from one year to six months.

A statewide poll done by the pro-decriminalization New Hampshire for Common Sense found 53 percent were in favor of the bill, 34 percent were opposed and the rest were undecided.

But an anti-substance-abuse group geared toward children came out against the legislation last week.

This Edwards-Fontas gambit isn't expected to change the Senate's view of the bill, but it's a savvy maneuver for two lawmakers barely old enough to legally drink alcohol.

Signs point to these two 21-year-olds deciding to pursue their own higher education and not seek re-election to the House. If that's the case, they would be missed, and it's hoped they would return once they're settled in professionally.

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