EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

February 14, 2013

Supporters of medical marijuana are optimistic

Less likely decriminalization proposals would pass

Supporters of medical marijuana legislation are hopeful state lawmakers will approve the measure — and the new governor will follow.

Proponents know the legislation has a better chance of passing since former Gov. John Lynch left office. The four-term Democratic governor was a staunch opponent of marijuana legislation, vowing to veto any bill that hit his desk.

Newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan said she’s willing to consider signing a marijuana medical bill into law, but opposes decriminalization.

Two recent polls show widespread public support for medical marijuana, less for decriminalization.

Three decriminalization bills will be heard by a House panel today. The bills either reduce or eliminate the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

They will be considered by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee at beginning 1 p.m. A hearing on the medical marijuana legislation, House Bill 573, is scheduled for a week from today.

This won’t be the first time marijuana legislation has appeared before lawmakers. Similar bills were defeated in the Legislature in recent years. One piece of decriminalization legislation survived a 162-161 vote in the House last year, but was killed in the Senate.

Rep. Kyle Tasker, R-Nottingham, is a little more optimistic this year. Tasker has sponsored two of the three decriminalization bills, and is confident at least one will pass.

He is the only sponsor of House Bill 621, which would lessen the penalty imposed on anyone convicted of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana. Instead of facing up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine for the misdemeanor crime, he proposes it be reduced to a violation with a fine of no more than $100.

Tasker said a young person convicted of using small amounts of marijuana shouldn’t be prevented from receiving financial aid for college.

“You can be doing something that hurts no one else and not be able to get money for college,” he said. “Stuff like that really sticks to you for life.”

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