MPP’s endorsed candidates for New Hampshire governor did not win their primaries this week, but overall, the results bode well for the future of marijuana policy reform.
For the first time in the state’s history, both major parties' nominees for governor, Executive Councilors Colin Van Ostern (D) and Chris Sununu (R), are clearly on record in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession. It now appears virtually certain that MPP and its allies will finally be able to pass a decriminalization bill in 2017.
That wasn’t the only bit of good news. The two worst prohibitionists running for governor, Ted Gatsas and Jeanie Forrester (who both opposed decriminalization and voted against medical cannabis), came in third and fourth in the GOP primary. The pro-decriminalization Republicans, MPP-endorsed Frank Edeblut and Sununu, finished in a near-tie for first with a combined more than 60% of the vote, laying to rest any lingering belief that Republican voters might support continuing the state's war on marijuana users. Edelblut conceded to Sununu yesterday after reportedly falling short by only 804 votes.
In the Democratic primary, MPP-endorsed Steve Marchand helped spark a serious conversation about marijuana legalization across the state. Despite entering the race very late and being out-spent by a large margin, he ran a strong grassroots campaign, earned several key editorial endorsements down the stretch, and finished a respectable second.
On Thursday, the New Hampshire Senate had a golden opportunity to reduce marijuana possession penalties, but they failed to seize it. Rather than passing SB 498, which had been amended by the House to decriminalize possession of one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana for first offenses, the Senate voted to send the bill to a conference committee. This committee will be comprised of three senators and four representatives, who will meet to discuss a possible compromise between the two chambers.
Sadly, the three senators Senate President Chuck Morse named to the committee have all opposed reducing marijuana possession penalties to a violation: Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), and Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia). Since a conference committee must unanimously agree on a final bill or else it simply dies, there is little reason for optimism. However, it is still very important for senators to hear from supporters.
It’s also important for people to understand that if Gov. Maggie Hassan had supported this bill in any way, the outcome would likely have been very different in the Senate. Fortunately, New Hampshire will be electing a new governor and several new state senators in November — stay tuned for updates as election season approaches!