The last state in New England to hold out on cannabis decriminalization is poised to join the movement for marijuana reform. Earlier this week, the New Hampshire House of Representatives approved a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession in the Granite State. The bill passed by an overwhelming margin of 318-36 in the state's lower chamber, which is rather evenly divided -- with 226 Republican representatives, 173 Democrats and 1 Libertarian. So marijuana appears to be a bipartisan issue for New Hampshire.
Now the bill - known as HB 640 - will head over the Senate for approval. If passed, cannabis possession would no longer be a criminal offence anywhere in New England.
Activists say the move would allow law enforces to focus their resources on more pressing issues.
“Most representatives agree it is time to stop wasting limited public resources on arrests for simple marijuana possession,” Matt Simon - the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) - said in a press release. “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.”
The public seems to agree. According to the MPP, HB 640 received much less opposition than similar bills have over the years. Only one person testified against it during a public hearing last month. And while previous New Hampshire governors have opposed decriminalization, Governor Chris Sununu (R) supports decriminalization. Last year, he said that decriminalization would ensure that "the punishment of that crime more [is] in line with its severity and more in line with the common sense punishment it needs to be."
If passed, people caught with one ounce of pot or less would face a fine of $100 for the first offence, $200 for a second within three years and $350 for a third offence within three years of the previous two. Previously, a person caught with that much marijuana would face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. he new law would also make marijuana possession would a civil violation instead of a misdemeanor.
But don't expect more cannabis reform from New Hampshire just yet. Governor Sununu likes decriminalization, but he doesn't support legalization. Not yet, at least. Hopefully Maine and Massachusetts -- which legalized last November -- will change his mind by providing a good role model for marijuana reform in New England.