With one signature, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu made history yesterday by decriminalizing cannabis in the Granite State and uprooting cannabis criminalization in New England. Every other state in the region had already decriminalized cannabis - beginning with Maine in 1976. But New Hampshire held out despite numerous attempts to reform its marijuana laws.
"[T]he House...has been passing decriminalization bills since 2008,” noted Matt Simon -- New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “It is refreshing to see the Senate finally come to an agreement with the House on this issue....The governor deserves credit for his steadfast support of this common-sense reform. 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."
Under the new law, people caught with up to an ounce of marijuana will be issued a civil violation with a $100 fine for the first and second offence. If they're caught a third time within three years of the first offence, they'll get a $300 fine. And they'll be charged with a Class B misdemeanor for a fourth violation in three years.
That's significantly better than the old law, which slapped people with a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $2,000 for getting busted with an ounce or less. But New Hampshire still has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to cannabis reform.
“Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use," Simon added. "It is time for the Legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire.”
Right now, Maine and Massachusetts are working on implementing the legalization ballot initiatives that each state passed in 2016. Last May, Vermont came close to repealing marijuana prohibition. And the legalization movement is gaining momentum in Rhode Island. So if New Hampshire wants to keep up with its neighbors, legislators should listen to their constituents and get to work on a bill allowing recreational use.
Last May, a Granite State Poll reported that 68 percent of New Hampshire residents want to join Maine and Massachusetts as the third New England State to legalize recreational marijuana.