New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed a new law that decriminalizes the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana.
New Hampshire has joined more than 20 U.S. states in decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu last week signed House Bill 640, reducing the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana or 5 grams of hashish from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation.
“The governor deserves credit for his steadfast support of this commonsense reform,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “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.”
“A lot of credit also goes to the House, which has been passing decriminalization bills since 2008,” Simon added. “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.”
New Hampshire officially becomes the 22nd state, and final New England state, to decriminalize marijuana possession. The new law, which takes effect 60 days after the signing, makes small possession punishable by a $100 fine for the first or second offense, and a fine of up to $300 for any subsequent offense within three years. A fourth offense within a three-year period may result in a person being charged with a misdemeanor. Police cannot arrest someone for a cannabis violation, and minors caught with possession are subject to a delinquency petition.
Supporters believe the new law will allow police to focus resources on more serious crimes. An analysis by ACLU of New Hampshire had found that the state spent more than $6.5 million on enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010. Supporters also argue that the change will ensure young people’s lives aren’t ruined by marijuana possession.
“There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession,” Simon said. “Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and Granite Staters are ready to see it treated that way. A very strong majority of state residents support ending marijuana prohibition altogether.”
A Granite State Poll released last month by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that more than two-thirds of New Hampshire adults (68 percent) support legalizing adult use marijuana. Gov. Sununu has said, however, that he does not support legalization.
“New Hampshire lawmakers should continue to follow their constituents’ lead on this issue,” Simon said. “Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use. It is time for the Legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire.”
The New Hampshire House had originally passed the decriminalization bill that reduced the penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The Senate then reduced the amount to three-quarters earlier this year and the House agreed without debate. It was then sent to Gov. Sununu for consideration.
“I want to thank the legislature for passing common sense marijuana reform. I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law,” Gov. Sununu said in May.
Of New England States, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have all passed decriminalization laws. Voters in Maine and Massachusetts have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Vermont lawmakers approved an adult use marijuana bill earlier this year, but Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed it.