Cannabis enthusiasts in New England rejoice: There will be no more jail time for small amounts of marijuana in New Hampshire.
Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday signed a bill into law that will prevent citizens from going to jail for carrying small amounts of cannabis — the 22nd state in the nation to pass such legislation. The law officially will go into effect in 60 days.
“The governor deserves credit for his steadfast support of this commonsense reform,” said Matt Simon, 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,” he added.
HB 640 was introduced by Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, where it passed by a v0te of 318-36 in February. The Senate amended and approved it in May by a 17-6 vote. The House passed the Senate version last month.
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“A lot of credit also goes to the House, which has been passing decriminalization bills since 2008,” Simon said. “It is refreshing to see the Senate finally come to an agreement with the House on this issue. This is a big step toward a more sensible marijuana policy for New Hampshire.”
The new law will reduce the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor — currently punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000 — to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense within three years of the first offense. A fourth offense within three years of the first offense could be charged as a class B misdemeanor, but there would be no arrest or possibility of jail time.
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.
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Maine and Massachusetts voters have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Vermont legislators are debating legalization but the bill stalled earlier this year. Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut have all passed decriminalization laws.
“There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession,” Simon said.
More than two-thirds of New Hampshire adults (68 percent) support making marijuana legal, according to a Granite State Poll released last month by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
So what happens if you get caught with cannabis in New Hampshire? 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.