New Hampshire is the only state left in the New England area to not have marijuana decriminalization laws on the books already, but a bill that was introduced – and just approved by the House – would make the current criminal misdemeanor a civil violation in the future. Similar bills have been introduced in the past, but none have ever made it out of legislature. However, the future of this bill might be brighter, considering the recent legalization of cannabis in nearby Maine and Massachusetts.
“I think it signals this really is a new day,” said Cushing. “For 40 years the House has been debating whether it should decriminalize a small amount of marijuana. Today, I think the vote is a really clear signal that it’s time to change the policy.”
House Bill 640 would take what is currently up to a year in jail or a $2,000 fine and turn it into a $100 ticket on the first offense. Additional offenses would be fined at $200 and $350, depending on how many offenses and how frequently they occur. Compared to votes in previous years, the large majority (318-36) voting in favor of this decriminalization bill certainly shows that there are more people than ever, Democrat and Republican alike, who are in support of lessening the penalties for simple cannabis possession.
“Most representatives agree it is time to stop wasting limited public resources on arrests for simple marijuana possession,” said Matt Simon, the Manchester-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “We hope their colleagues in the Senate will agree that our tax dollars and law enforcement officials’ time would be better spent addressing serious crimes.”
Along with the bill to decriminalize marijuana possession, the House also passed a bill that would create a commission to study marijuana legalization – which shows that they are looking to move that direction in the future (at least we can hope). They also passed bills that expand the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in the state to include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and chronic pain – which will open up access to thousands more patients. They did end up denying a bill that would have added opiate addiction to the list as well.
In the past, bills for decriminalization ended up dying in Senate hearings. However, with pressure from changes in nearby states and the fact that over 70% of New Hampshire residents are in favor of changing marijuana laws, there is a good chance of it passing this time around. These bills will all get hearings in Senate committees, where changes may be made prior to being heard by the full Senate. But if the decriminalization bill makes it to the Governor’s desk, we can expect it to be signed into law as Governor Chris Sununu has already said he supports decriminalization – and the other bills are not expected to have issues either.