The state Senate Judiciary Committee approved an amended version of HB 640 on Tuesday (3-2), bringing New Hampshire another step closer to becoming the final state in New England to decriminalize marijuana possession. The bill will now be considered by the full Senate and is expected to receive a vote on May 11.
The House overwhelmingly approved HB 640 in February in a 318-36 vote, and it has approved similar bills eight times since 2008. The Senate Judiciary Committee vote marks the first time such a bill has been approved by a Senate committee. Gov. Chris Sununu has consistently said he supports decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and is expected to sign the bill if it is approved by the full Senate.
“This is a big step toward a more sensible marijuana policy in New Hampshire,” said Matt Simon, the Manchester-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It will allow police and the courts to spend their time addressing serious crimes instead of wasting it on pointless arrests and criminal prosecutions for marijuana possession.”
HB 640, which was originally introduced in the House by Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, would remove the threat of arrest and jail time for simple marijuana possession. As amended by the Senate, the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana would be reduced from a criminal misdemeanor, which is 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 offensewithin three years of the first offense. A fourth offense within three years of the first offense could be charged as a class B misdemeanor without arrest or the possibility of jail time.
“The current penalties for marijuana possession in New Hampshire are causing more harm to consumers and the community than marijuana itself,” Simon said. “Every other state in New England has already stopped criminalizing people for simple marijuana possession. Granite Staters are ready to do the same.”
More than seven out of 10 Granite Staters (72%) would like to see the Legislature decriminalize or legalize marijuana, according to a WMUR Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center in July 2016.