Carroll County Reps weigh in on their votes on marijuana bill

January 23, 2014
OSSIPEE — The New Hampshire House of Representatives on Jan. 15 voted in favor of a bill that would legalize marijuana in the state, in a vote of 170 to 168. The bill is N.H. House Bill 492 and would allow residents to grow up to six marijuana plants, would authorize state-licensed stores to sell marijuana, and would decriminalize possession of up to one ounce by adults over age 21.

Passing the N.H. House is just the first step this bill will take on its journey to decide whether or not it will become law. The Jan 15 vote gave endorsement to the bill which has now been forwarded on to the N.H. House Ways and Means Committee for review and revision. After that, the bill will need another vote of approval by the N.H. House and then the N.H. Senate. If it passes that muster, it will go to the governor's desk for signature.

We reached out to the 15 state representatives elected to represent Carroll County to ask for more information about why they cast their ballot Jan. 15 the way they did. Of the 15, nine responded.

Karel Crawford (R-Moultonborough) said she voted against the bill because "I could not in all good conscience vote in the affirmative for HB 492. Being from a law enforcement family and a teacher of driver education in the State of New Hampshire, it is my job to teach students every day about the abuse of alcohol and drugs and the impairment effects that it has on driving. I respect those who agree or disagree and I hope that they would respect my right to do the same."

Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) said he is concerned about "the message legalization would send to our children," and he will be watching the impact marijuana legalization has on the two states that have voted to legalize it Colorado and Washington. "Perhaps in the future my vote might be different but I feel it is not the right time in New Hampshire," he said.

Other representatives, who appear to be taking the wait and see approach, keeping an eye on Colorado and Washington, are Karen Umberger (R-Conway) and Harry Merrow (R-Ossipee). Umberger also pointed out that legislators approved a medical marijuana bill just last year and that program has not been fully implemented yet. "We just passed medical marijuana and it has not been implemented. I want to see it get off the ground before any action to legalize marijuana for recreational use is passed. Secondly, I want to see what happens in both Colorado and Washington with the implementation of marijuana legalization. In particular, what are the pitfalls of their legislation and what is the impact of taxes," said Umberger.

Rep. Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) indicated the proposed bill is not restrictive enough and that brought his "no" vote. "Medical marijuana passed in 2013 but patients with serious or terminal diseases cannot grow their own marijuana and must buy from dispensaries. HB 492 permits all adults to manufacture, posses, obtain and purchase marijuana accessories and may distribute, deliver or sell marijuana accessories, is, in my opinion, a bad policy," said McConkey.

Also voting no were Carroll County Representatives Christopher Ahlgren (R-Wolfeboro), Thomas Buco (D-Conway), Bill Nelson (R-Brookfield) and Stephen Schmidt (R-Wolfeboro).

"I voted no to legalization because I didn't believe it was in the interest or benefit of most New Hampshire residents," said Schmidt. "I supported and was the sub-committee chair on the HHS&EA committee that crafted the medical marijuana bill ultimately passed by the House (in 2013). We had the opportunity of reviewing what other states had done and produced a bill that would benefit only those whose need was truly for medicinal purposes.

"HB 492 identified issues including licensing, enforcement, tax mechanisms and problems associated with a cash-only business (credit card companies won't process payments for a federally illegal drug) and many others. At a minimum this legislation should have been delayed to permit us to evaluate the results of the Colorado and Washington state initiatives and the effect (either negative or positive) on their populations.

"As a legislator I'm aware of the widespread use of marijuana and would support a well drafted bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug. Lastly, I found it curious that this same legislature voted down a single casino bill because of the perceived deleterious effect on New Hampshire but passes a 'Pot' bill with many identified flaws. Go figure!" said Schmidt.

Four Carroll County Representatives voted in favor of the bill and three responded to our request for more information. Donald Wright (R-Tuftonboro) did not respond as of press time.

Ed Butler (D-Hart's Location) responded and said, "I have always supported legalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. I believe that the money spent on arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating marijuana users can be much better spent elsewhere in our corrections and rehabilitation systems. Furthermore I suspect that eventual legalization will help to degrade the illegal trade in the sale of pot & the revenue from taxation can be put to use for the many needs of our state. And I suspect that others will have noted that marijuana use has been shown to be no less problematic than alcohol. In fact many studies show that alcohol use can be more addictive and cause more problems for its users at home and in the community than marijuana."

Syndi White (D-Conway) said she went along with the will of her constituents, when casting her vote in favor of the bill. "I voted in favor of HB492 because I believe it is time legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Prohibition did not work for alcohol, and it has not worked for marijuana. There is no reason it cannot be treated the same as alcohol and tobacco. Legalization of marijuana will allow for the creation of new businesses and jobs.

"The state needs to diversify its revenue stream, and the estimates of projected revenue are an impressive 30 million dollars per year.

"Colorado and Washington have already taken the leap and legalized it. More and more states are considering legalization. Some Representatives who voted against HB492 said they wanted to wait to see what happens in Colorado, while some said they voted against it because it is a federal issue and it should be resolved at the federal level. These are the same type of arguments given by opponents during the debate on marriage equality. In that case, NH did the right thing, and a domino effect is taking place throughout the nation. The same will happen with marijuana. It is time for New Hampshire to be a leader, not a follower. Legalizing marijuana is the common sense thing to do.

"During the past month I have received hundreds of emails, and messages from constituents urging me to vote in favor of HB492. These were from respected members of our communities. They were all ages and professions. Doctors, attorneys, business owners, teachers...the list goes on. The latest polls showed that 60 percent of the people are in favor of legalization. I listened to my constituents. It is time to get rid of these antiquated laws, which have ruined many lives and cost the state tens of thousands of dollars per year.

"I believe that those in the House who voted against legalization and those who have threatened to vote against it in the Senate, are on the wrong side of history. I also hope that the Governor will reconsider her threat of a veto, if the bill gets as far as her desk."

Susan Ticehurst (D-Tamworth) also took time to thoroughly explain her position and said she weighted evidence on both sides before making her final decision. "My primary concern was that legalization would result in more people suffering from health consequences, including addiction, while we lack the services to adequately help those who are currently in need," said Ticehurst.

She said she also weighted other factors including that patients who need cannabis would have access to affordable and convenient therapy. She pointed out that under the medical marijuana bill passed last year, patients are not allowed to grow the marijuana at home and the bill only covers a small number of medical conditions.

Other factors she weighed included that "other countries with less restrictive access to marijuana have lower rates of use and addiction"; the "war on drugs" has not been successful; appropriate treatment or rehabilitation programs are not offered in correctional facilities that would prevent recidivism; and "individuals have a natural right to access herbs for personal use".

"When the time came, I cast my vote as a representative of the overwhelming majority of people of my district who contacted me in support of legalization. However, I consider my vote to have been primarily a symbolic statement about some of the challenges we need to address. It is unlikely that this legislation will survive another House Committee recommendation, another House vote, a Senate Committee recommendation, a Senate vote and the Governor's promised veto. In the meantime, this issue deserves further consideration. We'll benefit from the experiences of other states that have legalized marijuana. We'll be able to evaluate our new therapeutic cannabis program. We'll wrestle with reconciling the state's interest in promoting health with its conflicting interest in generating tax benefits from a substance with negative health effects," wrote Ticehurst.

Rep. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) was absent from the vote, he said, because he had to "leave at 4 p.m. that day for family business." Tom Lavender (D-Brookfield) also missed the Jan. 15 vote but said if he had been there he would have voted against it. "I was absent from the Marijuana vote, but I would have voted against it, more because it is a bad bill than because of any anti-marijuana sentiment. I don't agree that it is harmless, smoking anything is probably harmful, but I think that the state should stay out of the way, allow people to consume and grow marijuana. Taxing and regulating its use probably would not keep drug dealers away, but would create yet another expensive bureaucracy."

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