N.H. cannabis consumers will have one less thing to worry about beginning on Saturday: Jail time will no longer be part of the punishment for simple possession. A state law decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana goes into effect on Saturday.
The law, signed into law in July by Gov. Chris Sununu, reduces the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation with fines up to $300. New Hampshire now joins 22 states, including all of New England, in decriminalizing the herb.
Under the new law, New Hampshire police cannot arrest someone for a marijuana violation. “The governor and Legislature both deserve a lot of credit for moving the state forward with this commonsense reform,” said Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Unlike his predecessors, who opposed similar proposals, Gov. Sununu appears to understand that ‘Live Free or Die’ is more than just a motto on a license plate.”
HB 640 was introduced by Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, where it received overwhelming approval in February (318-36). The Senate amended and approved it on May 11 (17-6), and the House passed the Senate version by a voice vote on June 1. Gov. Sununu signed it on July 18.
According to an analysis performed by the ACLU, New Hampshire spent more than $6.5 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010. The study also concluded that African Americans were 2.6 times more likely than white people to be busted for possession.
More than two-thirds of adults in New Hampshire (68%) support making marijuana legal, according to a Granite State Poll released in June by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
Here are some highlights of House Bill 640:
- Possession of up to three-quarters of one ounce of cannabis or up to five grams of hashish will only be a fine. No arrest. No criminal record. Before decriminalization, this infraction would have been punishable by up to one year in jail
- The final under the new law will be $100 for a first or second offense.
- A third offense within three years of the initial offense will result in a fine of $300.
- A fourth offense within three years of the original offense can result in a misdemeanor charge, but no arrest or jail time. and a $2,000 fine.
- Those caught possessing cannabis who are under 18 will be sent to juvenile court.
- Adults who fail to keep edible marijuana secure, allowing access to minors, are subject to a new misdemeanor offense.
- 100 percent of the revenue from fines imposed under the law will go to a special fund for substance abuse prevention programs.