The New Hampshire governor is expected to sign a bill that will decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
The New Hampshire Legislature has approved House Bill 640 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Gov. Chris Sununu has already announced that he intends to sign the bill, which will take effect 60 days after it is signed.
House Bill 640 will make the possession of up to three quarters of an ounce of cannabis or up to five grams of hash a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine, rather than a criminal offense punishable by jail time. Any additional offense within a three-year period could be a class B misdemeanor and subject to higher fines. The money collected from fines will go to a fund dedicated to alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment.
“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,” said Matt Simon, New England Political Director of the Marijuana Policy Project.
Supporters of the bill have argued that arresting adults for low-level marijuana possession unfairly tarnishes people’s criminal histories and is a waste of funds and law enforcement time. An analysis by the ACLU of New Hampshire showed that the state spent more than $6.5 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010. The study also found that black New Hampshire residents are 2.6 times more likely than white residents to be arrested for possession.
“We are going to get these people who are convicted of minor crimes of possession of small amounts out of the criminal system, out of the jail system,” said Representative Chuck Grassie (Rochester), who introduced a decriminalization bill four decades ago.
The Senate approved the decriminalization legislation earlier this year before the House passed the bill without debate. Once the bill is signed into law, New Hampshire will become the last state in New England to decriminalize marijuana. Neighboring states Massachusetts and Maine have legalized the use and sale of adult use marijuana.
“It is time for New Hampshire to join the rest of New England in adopting more sensible marijuana possession laws,” said Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, in a prepared statement. “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.”
“It makes no sense for New Hampshire to be an outlier, putting people in prison for possessing small amounts of pot,” said Democratic Rep. Renny Cushing, who with a bipartisan group of co-sponsors originally introduced the bill in the House.
New Hampshire lawmakers also approved House Bill 160, which would expand the state’s medical cannabis law to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain as qualifying conditions. Gov. Sununu has not indicated whether or not he will sign the bill.