MANCHESTER — Hoping to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire, two powerful advocacy groups are working together — and training their sights on Manchester’s three state senators.
Americans for Prosperity, the conservative-leaning advocacy group, convened a “coalition kickoff” on Thursday evening with the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The ACLU and AFP have been partners on several criminal justice issues,” said Jeanne Hruska, political director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. The event drew about 20 people, both Republicans and Democrats. Hruska said she was not surprised by the ideological diversity.
“I think legalization of cannabis should be a bipartisan issue,” she said.
Ross Connolly, deputy state director of New Hampshire’s Americans for Prosperity chapter, said he thought marijuana legalization could unite libertarians and liberals.
“We find common ground with them to work together, and bridge the divide,” Connolly said.
Hruska and Connolly spoke on a panel with Matt Simon, a Manchester resident who leads the Marijuana Policy Project. Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, and Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, were answering questions from a group of about 20 people about how to make some headway on legalizing cannabis.
In April, the state House of Representatives passed a bill that would have legalized marijuana for recreational use among adults older than 21, “subject to reasonable regulation and taxation,” the bill read.
But the state Senate referred the bill to committee, and has not voted on it. The Senate also sustained Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a bill that would have allowed people who use medical marijuana to grow their own plants.
In Manchester on Thursday, the group singled out Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro and state Senate President Donna Soucy, all Democrats.
“All three Manchester senators voted against home cultivation,” Simon observed, “even though the Democratic party platform says they’re for legalization.”
Simon said he wants to work with the ACLU and Americans for Prosperity to spur the three senators’ constituents to lobby for legalization. Hruska, Connolly and Simon said they hope Manchester residents will do that lobbying.
D’Allesandro said he opposes cannabis because he sees it as dangerous.
“I’ve seen the results,” D’Allesandro said. “I think it can have a terrible negative effect on people.” D’Allesandro said he voted in favor of therapeutic cannabis because he thought it would be a valuable alternative to opioid painkillers — not because he’s interested in legalization.
Although the state Democratic party’s platform includes a plank supporting legalizing marijuana, and Sununu has come out in opposition to recreational marijuana, cannabis has not become a party-line issue, said Rep. Paul Berch, D-Westmoreland, a supporter of legalizing recreational use.
“I’ve worked successfully with people who have a different initial after their name than I do. I think different political groups approach it from different perspectives,” he said.
“I may like an issue because I think it’s good social policy. Someone else may approach it from a point of view that they’re interested in small government.”
From both sides of the aisle, legalization is becoming a popular idea, said Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham.
Abrami chaired a marijuana study commission last year. He is against recreational marijuana, but said he sees the issue gaining momentum, especially as recreational marijuana industries in Massachusetts and Maine take off.
“The argument’s going to be that we’re surrounded by it now,” he said. “Medical passed a long time ago. Decriminalization made it like a traffic ticket. This is the big enchilada.”
The issue is expected to come up again in 2020.
“It’s close in the Senate but we’ll see what happens,” Abrami said. He said he thinks the future of recreational marijuana might come down to just one Manchester state senator: Soucy, the Senate president. “If she flips on this, then it probably has a chance,” Abrami said.