Every once in a while, the State House experiences the equivalent of a flash of lightning, and at that moment it becomes clear to all why New Hampshire’s cannabis policies remain stuck in the Dark Ages despite overwhelming public support for sensible reforms.
On Thursday morning before the final Senate vote on HB 364 (the medical cannabis home cultivation bill), it appeared that the Senate might actually override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto, despite the vote having been two votes short of the required two-thirds majority on May 2.
One senator told advocates outside the chamber that he was planning to change his vote and support the bill. Another senator who had voted no on May 2 gave advocates a thumbs-up entering the chamber. Two additional senators who had voted no reportedly told colleagues that they were considering changing their position, so for a moment, it appeared that we might actually have 17 or 18 votes in favor — more than enough to override the veto and pass HB 364 into law.
Then lightning struck. A senator informed advocates that Senator Kevin Cavanaugh (D-Manchester), who had voted for the bill on May 2, was considering caving under pressure from prohibitionists. It was not yet clear where the pressure was coming from, but given the history of this issue, it seemed likely that a police chief was responsible.
As the floor debate got underway, it became clear that some of the senators were very frustrated with other senators and with the police chiefs’ association. Senator John Reagan (R-Deerfield) blasted the chiefs’ association for its longtime opposition to the bill, at one point calling it “the cruelest organization I’ve ever heard of.” Then, Senator Tom Sherman (D-New Castle) expressed frustration that not only police chiefs but mayors were working against the bill. (Since Senator Sherman is a doctor who has several patients that are benefiting from cannabis as an alternative to opioids, his apparent frustration seemed warranted.)
When it came time for the vote, only one senator changed position and that was Senator Cavanaugh. All three of Manchester’s senators voted to sustain the veto.
When senators emerged from the chamber after the vote, several senators named Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig as the mayor who had pressured senators to vote against the bill. This was later confirmed by Senator Jeanne Dietsch (D-Peterborough) in a public Facebook comment:
Regardless of who lobbied them, senators Soucy, Cavanaugh, and D’Allesandro should be ashamed of themselves for putting the preferences of a few police chiefs ahead of the needs of patients. Their uncompassionate votes on this issue could not be more out of touch with the views of their constituents.
The bill has already been re-filed for 2020. Advocates will not stop until patients are finally free to grow their own cannabis without fear of arrest and prosecution.
Finally, shame on Senators Ward and Starr for breaking their campaign promises.
Note: Joyce Craig’s opponent in the mayoral race, Victoria Sullivan, has a mixed voting record on home cultivation bills. In 2016, then-Rep. Sullivan voted “nay” on the “ought to pass” motion on a similar home cultivation bill that passed the House (HB 593).
In 2017, Sullivan voted *against* the “inexpedient to legislate” motion on another similar bill, HB 472 (which subsequently passed the House in a voice vote). So it appears that Sullivan may have been persuaded to support home cultivation sometime between 2016 and 2017.
I think it will be interesting to hear what she has to say about the issue now that she’s running for mayor. Perhaps most importantly, if Sullivan is elected mayor and Chief Capano tells her to lobby senators in opposition to a cannabis policy reform bill, will she agree to do his bidding?
Matt Simon is the New England Political Director of the Marijuana Policy Project