Republican legislators nationwide should perk up their ears and take notice of what is happening in New Hampshire, where a Republican-sponsored medical marijuana bill has blazed a trail of surprising successes.
SB 409 had already passed the Republican-dominated Senate March 28, and today the 400-member House, which is about 75% Republican, voted 236-96 in favor, with strong bipartisan support.
Unfortunately, Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, announced in advance of the House vote that he intends to veto the bill as he did a similar bill in 2009.
How can this be possible, some might ask? According to the bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford), support for allowing medical marijuana is perfectly consistent with Republican principles. “I’ve never used marijuana in my life,” the former Air Force pilot has often explained, “but as a matter of principle, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for government to interfere with choices that should be made between a doctor and a patient.”
Forsythe and his Senate cosponsors, Senator Ray White (R-Bedford) and Senator John Gallus (R-Berlin), began with support from the Senate’s five Democrats, but they had a tough hill to climb with their Republican colleagues. Previous bills had never received more than one vote from a Republican senator, but after a compelling public hearing in which patients shared their stories face-to-face with legislators, the bill quickly gained momentum.
The paradigm shift began to materialize in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee March 22, when two former opponents announced they would be supporting the bill. The committee chairman, Senator Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), represented New Hampshire in Congress from 2003-2007, and Senator Gary Lambert (R-Nashua) is a retired Marine and a former prosecutor, so these were two very significant conversions.
The bill passed the committee that day in a 5-0 vote that sent shockwaves around the State House, and then, the following Wednesday, strong speeches on the floor by Senators Bradley and Lambert carried the bill to victory in a Senate comprised of nineteen Republicans and only five Democrats.
Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Or are Republicans in New Hampshire just getting on the right side of history in advance of some of their colleagues in other states?
Following today’s historic House vote and Governor Lynch’s heartless veto threat, all eyes will be on the eleven Republican senators who have not yet crossed the line from “undecided” to “supportive.” Three additional votes will be necessary to override the veto, but with the momentum SB 409 has shown so far, it would be tough to bet against the patients who are asking for this sensible, compassionate reform!