By Phillip Smith
As of noon last Saturday, the possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized in New Hampshire. Now, nowhere is New England will someone caught with a joint or two be subject to arrest.
Two New England states — Maine and Massachusetts — have legalized marijuana, and all the others have now decriminalized it.
Decriminalization came when, after years of effort, the legislature passed House Bill 640 in June, and Republican Gov. Jon Sununu signed it into law the following month.
Under the state’s old law, people caught with small amounts of pot faced up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. Under the new law, the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce is reduced to a $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense within three years. A fourth offense within three years could be charged as a Class B misdemeanor, but there would be no arrest or jail time.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has been deeply involved in the state for years, congratulated state political leaders for going this far, but urged them to go further.
“The governor and Legislature both deserve a lot of credit for moving the state forward with this commonsense reform,” said Matt Simon, MPP’s Manchester-based New England political director. “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 supporting decriminalization bills since 2008,” Simon said. “It was refreshing to see the Senate finally come to an agreement with the House on this issue in 2017. This is a big step toward a more sensible marijuana policy for New Hampshire.”
The next step would be outright legalization, Simon said, pointing to an August Granite State poll that showed more than two-thirds (68%) of state residents supported freeing the weed.
“There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession. 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,” Simon said.
“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.”