Sometime this summer, New Hampshire will almost certainly become the 22nd state in the nation to decriminalize marijuana. The New Hampshire House of Representatives on Thursday voted to eliminate the criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis. The bill now is headed to the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has publically supported the plan.
According to state law, the long-awaited measure will take effect within 60 days of receiving the governor’s signature. New Hampshire would become the last New England state to remove criminal penalties for cannabis possession.
In November, voters in nearby Maine and Massachusetts made adult use of recreational marijuana legal. In Vermont, the legislature passed a legalization bill but it was vetoed last week by Republican Gov. Phil Scott. There are hopes of a compromise bill passing in Vermont this summer.
“It makes no sense for New Hampshire to be an outlier, putting people in prison for possessing small amounts of pot,” Democratic Rep. Renny Cushing, who has pushed for reforms, told the Concord Monitor.
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Earlier this year, Gov. Sununu has signalled that he will support the measure.
“We’ll let the legislature go through their process and we’ll see where it ends up but I do believe in the decriminalization aspect of marijuana,” Sununu said in April. “Obviously not the full legalization. Those are two very different issues.”
And in May, Sununu posted this on his Twitter page:
I want to thank the legislature for passing common sense marijuana reform. I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law.
— Chris Sununu (@GovChrisSununu) May 11, 2017
A recent poll reveals that 68 percent in the state support legalizing marijuana.
Supporters of sensible cannabis legislation were pleased with the vote and expressed near certainty that Sununu will approve.
“We applaud the New Hampshire House in voting to concur with the Senate version of the bill and urge the Governor to sign into law without delay,” Devon Chaffee, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, wrote in a prepared statement. “It is time for New Hampshire to join the rest of New England in adopting more sensible marijuana possession laws.”
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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.
Matt Simon, New England Political Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said:
“It’s been a long time coming, but New Hampshire is finally moving toward adopting marijuana policies that are consistent with the state’s ‘Live Free or Die’ motto.”
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.