New Hampshire is the only state in New England that still doles out criminal penalties to people caught with small amounts of marijuana, but that could soon change.
On Thursday night, the state’s House of Representatives approved a bill to decriminalize possession of up to a half ounce of cannabis.
The legislation, which would replace criminal penalties with civil fines, now heads to the Senate.
The action by the full House reverses a recommendation from the chamber’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which voted 7-6 last month against decriminalization’s passage.
After voting 193-104 on a procedural motion to overturn the committee’s suggestion, the House passed the bill on a voice vote.
Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana.com in an interview that the legislation is “almost identical” to a decriminalization bill the House passed last year.
“The Senate almost worked out a governor-supported compromise that would have decriminalized first offenses only, 1/4 ounce or less, but the deal fell apart on the Senate floor the last day of session,” he said. “By passing this bill we are essentially giving the Senate and governor a ‘do-over.’ It seems likely that we’ll be able to get something done, but it probably won’t be as good as decrim laws in other New England states.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), currently a candidate for U.S. Senate, hasn’t been especially friendly to marijuana law reform during her tenure. Although she signed a medical cannabis bill into law in 2013, her administration has been accused of slow-walking its implementation. She also strongly opposes legalization.
In 2014, the state’s House of Representatives became the first state legislative chamber in U.S. history to approve a marijuana legalization bill. The state’s Senate did not follow suit amidst veto threats by Hassan, and the legislation died.
Last month, the state Senate in neighboring Vermont approved a legalization bill. Peter Shumlin, the state’s Democratic governor, supports the legislation, but it faces uncertain prospects in the House.
The current New Hampshire decriminalization bill, as passed by the House, would replace criminal penalties with a fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and $500 for a third or subsequent offense. Under current law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.
Twenty states and the Washington, D.C. have removed the threat of jail for low-level marijuana possession. Fifteen other states, including New Hampshire, are considering bills to do so this year, according to MPP.
A poll released by WMUR this month found that 62 percent of New Hampshire residents support full legalization of marijuana.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett