New Hampshire Last To Decriminalize In New England
Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday signed a bill into law that will decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in New Hampshire.
It will officially take effect in 60 days, making New Hampshire the 22nd state in the nation — and the last of the New England states — to eliminate the possibility of jail time for simple marijuana possession.
Gov. Sununu in May called the bill “common sense marijuana reform,” reports the New Hampshire Union Leader.
‘Big Step Forward’
“The governor deserves credit for his steadfast support of this commonsense reform,” said Matt Simon, the Manchester-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “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 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,” Simon said.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.
‘Every Parent Knows Kids are What We Used To Be’
“The reason I am supporting this bill is personal,” Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) said in May. “A lot of us have kids. I do,” Bradley said. “Every parent knows kids are what we used to be when we were kids. They try things. I don’t want my kids facing one strike and you are out, because I’ve been there.”
Sen. Bradley had worked to engineer a compromise which he fought to protect against amendments proposed by decriminalization opponent, his fellow Republican, Sen. Bill Gannon of Sandown.
LEAP Likes It
“Decriminalizing marijuana will reduce the burden low-level marijuana offenses place on police officers and judges who have to deal with these cases every day,” said Richard Van Wickler, a superintendent of Corrections at a jail facility in New Hampshire and board chairman of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), reports Tony Schinella at the Concord Patch.
“I look forward to seeing our justice system refocus on serious crimes and use resources more effectively to keep our families and communities safe,” Van Wickler said.
HB 640 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. It will now be 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.
“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.
“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.”
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.