Marchand backs legal weed, getting inmate off death row

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CONCORD, N.H. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand is calling for marijuana legalization and saying he'd consider commuting the death sentence of New Hampshire's only person on death row.

In the three-way Democratic primary, these positions set Marchand apart — and mark a shift from the views of the three Democratic governors who've led New Hampshire for 18 of the past 20 years. Among them, none supported legalizing marijuana and only current Gov. Maggie Hassan has backed death penalty repeal, but only if it doesn't change the death sentence of convicted cop killer Michael Addison.

Marchand believes he's in line with voters.

"I don't think I'm outside the mainstream of where New Hampshire residents are on these and other issues," he said Monday.

Marchand's Democratic opponents are Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern and former state securities regulator Mark Connolly. Both entered the race earlier than Marchand, gaining a head start on voter outreach and fundraising. Viewed by many as the underdog, Marchand — the former mayor of Portsmouth — calls himself the "most progressive" candidate in the race, but also someone who can appeal to civil libertarians. Some Democrats question his progressive credentials.

The primary is Sept. 13.

Sixty percent of New Hampshire voters support legalizing weed, according to the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, but Marchand is alone in offering full-throated support. Connolly is "open to" legalization after evaluating how it's worked in other states, his campaign said. Van Ostern's campaign said he is "not opposed" to legalization if it is supported by health care professionals and law enforcement, a group that staunchly opposes it now.

"There was a time not so long ago where somebody who was in favor of marijuana legislation would've just been laughed off the stage," said Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College. "We're not there anymore,"

All three Democrats support decriminalization for possessing small amounts of pot; New Hampshire is the only New England state without such a law.

Marchand's death penalty position is likely less popular. About half of New Hampshire voters prefer the death penalty for convicted murderers, and Addison's 2006 murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs sparked statewide outrage.

Like Marchand, Connolly and Van Ostern favor repeal but don't go so far as advocating a change in Addison's sentence. That's the same position Hassan took in 2014 when a repeal bill nearly made it through the Legislature.

New Hampshire remains the only New England state with the death penalty.

State law gives the governor, with advice of the executive council, power to commute a death sentence. Marchand says he'd prefer legislative repeal but would be open to reducing Addison's sentence to life in prison without parole through executive means. He called Addison's crime "heinous" and said there is "no question" of his guilt, but Marchand says his rivals are morally inconsistent if they want repeal to only apply to future crimes.

"It isn't just immoral in the future, it is also immoral in the present," he said.

Marchand's stance on both issues shows that he's not worried about being "cautious," said Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center.

"Despite the success of Democratic candidates for governor, there's a feeling, a perception, that they haven't implemented policies that activist Democrats really want," Smith said.

But not all Democrats see Marchand as the progressive he's claiming to be, pointing to his past involvement with centrist political groups. Kathy Sullivan, a former state Democratic party chair who is backing Van Ostern, is a long-time critic of the group "No Labels," where Marchand was recently state director. The group has backed Republicans and called Donald Trump a "problem solver" candidate earlier this year. Marchand left shortly after.

"It was like he was no labels on Tuesday and I'm a progressive on Wednesday," she said. "No, that doesn't work."


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