HB 640 is headed back to the House, which is expected to concur with the Senate’s version
The bill would remove the threat of arrest and jail time for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana
The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday passed a bill 17-6) that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Senate had previously defeated cannabis decrim eight times in the past 10 years.HB 640 will now head back to the House of Representatives, which overwhelmingly approved the original version in February (318-36) and is expected to concur with the Senate-approved version soon. At that point, the bill would be sent to Gov. Chris Sununu, who has said he will sign it into law.
HB 640 was originally introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors. “For 40 years the House has been talking about decriminalization of marijuana,” Cushing said, reports Paul Steinhauser at NH1. “I think we’re ready to do so.”
“I think what’s important is that we stop making criminals out of people who use a small amount of marijuana, that we don’t have students who use a little pot lose their student loans,” Rep. Cushing said. “That we don’t have veterans who use pot recreationally or for their own purposes get kicked out of their homes. That we stop spending $35,000 per year to incarcerate people who are convicted of possession of marijuana.”
“The times they are a-changing,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Woodburn, a Democrat, reports Paul Steinhauser at NH1. “It’s an idea whose time has come.” GOP Sen. Harold French of Franklin agreed: “It is time that New Hampshire listens to the will of our citizens.”
Sununu Will Sign
“I want to thank the legislature for passing common sense marijuana reform,” Republican Governor Chris Sununu said. “I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law.”
Sununu supported decriminalization during his campaign for governor last year. His Republican predecessor, Gov. Maggie Hassan, opposed decriminalization. “I do believe in the decriminalization aspect of marijuana,” Gov. Sununu said last week.The Senate-approved version would 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.
‘Very Important Reform’
“This is a very important reform for the Granite State, and it has been a long time coming,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “The walls of prohibition are crumbling in New England and across the United States. It’s encouraging to see New Hampshire finally begin to catch up with neighboring states by passing decriminalization.”“New Hampshire remains the only New England state where an adult can be arrested, face up to a year in jail, and suffer a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a personal use amount of marijuana,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “House Bill 640 is a long overdue, fiscally sensible proposal that is supported by the voters, and that will enable police, prosecutors, and the courts to reallocate their existing resources toward activities that will better serve the public.
“After years of stonewalling by former leadership, we commend lawmakers for finally correcting this injustice,” Altieri said. “Once law, Granite State residents will be one step closer to being able to truly ‘Live Free’ and not just ‘live free, but potentially be incarcerated’.”
More than two-thirds of New Hampshire adults (68 percent) support making marijuana legal, according to the latest Granite State Poll, which was released Tuesday by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Nearly three-quarters of Granite Staters (74 percent) would like to see the Legislature decriminalize or legalize marijuana.