John Gregg: Uppers and Downers
The New Hampshire House made history yesterday, becoming the first legislative chamber in the country voting to create a legal market for recreational marijuana for adults, according to the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.
But talk about strange twists. Among the supporters were Edmond Gionet, an 82-year-old conservative Republican from Lincoln, while a majority of House lawmakers representing the left-leaning Upper Valley voted against the measure.
Among the pro-pot supporters were state Reps. Bernie Benn, D-Hanover; Carol Friedrich, D-Wentworth; Catherine Mulholland, D-Grafton; George Sykes, D-Lebanon; Andy White, D-Lebanon; Dave Kidder, R-New London; Ben Lefebvre, D-Grantham; Andrew Schmidt, D-Grantham; James Grenier, R-Lempster; and Linda Tanner, D-Georges Mills.
Voting no were state Reps. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon; Susan Ford, D-Easton; Laurie Harding, D-Lebanon; Patricia Higgins, D-Hanover; Linda Lauer, D-Bath; Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover; Beatriz Pastor, D-Lyme; Wendy Piper, D-Enfield; Chuck Townsend, D-Canaan; John Cloutier, D-Claremont; Ray Gagnon, D-Claremont; Suzanne Gottling, D-Sunapee; Virginia Irwin, D-Newport; Andrew O’Hearne, D-Claremont; Joe Osgood, R-Claremont; Skip Rollins, R-Newport; Steven Smith, R-Charlestown; and Cynthia Sweeney, D-Charlestown.
It’s hard to see any clear patterns, except that three current or former firefighters (White, Lefebvre and Sykes) voted for legalization, while three with law enforcement backgrounds (O’Hearne, Gagnon and Osgood) voted no.
Meanwhile, anyone want to tell all those Dartmouth College students that most of the Hanover-area delegation, including Pastor, a Dartmouth professor, were buzzkills?
Almy, the chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said her objections included concerns that it would be hard to regulate and tax marijuana sales, given both New Hampshire’s current government structure and the fact that federal law has made much of the marijuana trade in Colorado a cash business.
“The main problem is the people who wrote the bill spent absolutely no time on what would be involved in a regulatory structure that would keep the feds from coming down on us,” said Almy. “That has to be done up front.”
But others, including state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, the Manchester Republican behind the bill, said such arguments are a smokescreen.
“Desperate people will make desperate pleas. In fact, we’ve left a 17-month time table for executive departments to draw up regulations necessary, and the Colorado model is right there to use as a starting point,” Vaillancourt wrote in a mass email.
Among those Valley lawmakers voting to legalize marijuana were state Rep. David Kidder, a mainstream Republican from New London, who also noted the bill may get killed in the Senate or be vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan.
“I think as a general rule most people believe that marijuana is certainly less dangerous than alcohol — as I sit here having a drink — and I just think this is a good time to run it up the flagpole,” Kidder said in a phone interview last evening. “We’ve got a long ways to go, but from my perspective, I think we need to look at some of this stuff. Times change.”
Executive Council Race
Don’t forget to vote Tuesday in the primary in the New Hampshire special election for the District 1 Executive Council seat covering all Upper Valley towns except Unity and Charlestown. It’s the race to replace the late Ray Burton, and on the GOP side, former Belknap County Commissioner Christopher Boothby of Meredith, former state Sen. Joe Kenney of Wakefield, and former congressional staffer Mark Aldrich of Lebanon are in a three-way primary.
Hanover Democrat Mike Cryans is uncontested in the Democratic primary, and Valley clerks expect a very light turnout.
Hanover Town Clerk Betsy McClain said polls there will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the town had received only six requests for absentee ballots thus far. “Given that we expect a somewhat light turnout, our polling place will be set up in the foyer of the Hanover High School Gym,” McClain said in an email. “We were hard-pressed to muscle the HHS students out of the gym for a whole day and a half during bball season!”
Lebanon City Clerk Sandi Allard said polls there will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and that only three absentee ballot requests has been submitted.
“I hope I am wrong, but would be surprised if we got more than a 5 percent voter turnout (and that is being optimistic),” she wrote.
Judge Lawrence MacLeod Jr. of Lebanon was confirmed yesterday as a New Hampshire Superior Court judge. Couple that with the retirement of Judge Albert Cirone Jr. after serving as the presiding justice in Lebanon Circuit Court for more than 25 years, and there’s a real staff and judge crunch in Lebanon.
By the way, an open house is planned to honor Cirone on Thursday, Jan. 30, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Lebanon courthouse.